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Pentagon Releases Names of Four U.S. Soldiers Linked To North Korea

January 16, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon today released the names of four former U.S. soldiers it believes are living in North Korea, including one whom it thinks appears in a photograph published this week by a South Korean newspaper.

The four were identified as: Pvt. Larry A. Abshier, Cpl. Jerry W. Parrish, Pvt. James Dresnok and Sgt. Robert Jenkins. Their home towns and other details were not available. All were reported to have deserted their units in South Korea in the 1960s.

Pentagon spokeswoman Beverly Baker said U.S. officials believe the photograph in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper depicts Jenkins. The newspaper said the man in the picture was an American POW from the Korean War who was acting in a North Korean movie.

She said Pentagon investigators believe Abshier and Dresnok also were in the movie. She said the Pentagon does not have a copy of the film.

Ms. Baker said two other American soldiers who deserted to North Korea, in 1979 and 1982, are reported to have died. She identified them as Pvt. Joseph White and Ryan Sup Chung, whose rank was not given.

Separate from the four defectors, the Pentagon is pursuing unconfirmed intelligence leads from the late 1980s that as many as 11 Americans taken prisoner in the Korean War were still alive in the North. Their names are not known. The Pentagon has not commented publicly on this information before.

The identities of the four defectors were established through analysis of photographs apparently connected to their participation in the North Korean movie, said one U.S. official, who is closely involved in accounting for troops missing from the Korean War and spoke Monday on condition he not be identified.

The black-and-white movie, apparently filmed over several years in the early 1980s, portrays North Korea’s counterintelligence efforts during the Korean War. The title is variously translated as ``Nameless Heroes″ or ``Unknown Hero.″

U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that a small number of POWs may still be held in North Korea.

A Feb. 2, 1989, U.S. military intelligence report said a North Korean defector had reported that 11 U.S. POWs were working as English teachers and translators at North Korea’s military’s foreign language school in the capital, Pyongyang. The report said the 11 were not allowed to travel freely.

``We’re still very interested in those reports,″ the U.S. official said Monday.

Jim Coles, a U.S. military spokesman in Seoul, on Sunday dismissed as ``totally false″ reports in the South Korean news media that the U.S. government had confirmed that North Korea was still holding American POWs.

About 8,100 Americans are officially listed as unaccounted for from the Korean War.

North Korea denies holding any American captives.

The North Korean defector who provided the information in the Feb. 2, 1989, intelligence report was debriefed by U.S. officials. His identity is blanked out in the report.

The defector was said to have learned the information from three sources, including a 26-year-old friend whose father was personnel chief for the North Korean foreign language institute and a former colonel in military intelligence.

Fifteen days after that Feb. 2 report, the U.S. 501st Military Intelligence Brigade in Seoul was told to try to follow up with further interviews of the main source and the source’s contacts.

``Of major importance with regard to reporting about the prisoners of war are the names of the Americans,″ said a Feb. 17, 1989, Pentagon cable.

It is unclear what, if anything, was learned from follow-up inquiries.

A separate Pentagon cable, dated July 6, 1989, said another source described as ``intelligent and knowledgeable″ had reported that three ``U.S. personnel known among North Korean people as defectors from the Korean War″ were teaching English at the military foreign language school in Pyongyang. It said they lived near the school; one was married to a North Korean and the others were single.

The source cited in the July report was said to have learned the information through conversations over a period of months in 1988 with five North Korean interpreters working for North Korean military advisers in Uganda.

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