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The History of U.S. Desertions to North Korean Forces

Travis King, a member of the United States Army surrendered himself to North Korean forces after crossing the Border, last week. The United Nations Command released a press release on July 18th. The report detailed that a United States National crossed the Military Demarcation Line (DMZ) and surrendered to North Korean military. Although, The press release didn’t name the solider.

Source: Skynews

However, the following day, July 19th, United States officials confirmed Travis King was the serviceman who crossed the DMZ. Travis was the first American since 2018 to cross The Demilitarized Zone.

Who is Travis King

Travis King is a 23-year-old 2nd class Private Calvary scout for the United States Army. King enlisted in the army in 2021 and was a part of the 1st Armored Division stationed in South Korea, According to CBS. However, King got into legal trouble and spent two months in a South Korean prison for assault charges. Upon his release on July 18th, King faced disciplinary actions from the United States and escorted by the UD Army to Incheon international airport near Seoul.

The Army left Private King at customs. Private King was expected to board a plane back to the United States. Somehow, King managed to leave the airport where he then traveled with a tourism group from Seoul to the border village of Panmunjom.

Crossing the Border

Panmunjom a small border village situated between the DMZ and DML. Founded as a conference hall for the Korean armistice truce to end the Korean War, from 1951 to 1953. The village runs along the 38th parallel, with the two countries separate by a concrete slab. The spot is also a hotspot for tourism garnering over 100,000 tourists visits every year.

Source: bestofkorea Photograph of The DMZ

However, getting tourism access can be tricky as the wait can take up to three days for approval. The requirement of passport identification; makes it near impossible for anyone to stumble upon a tour.

While the village is a tourism hotspot. Straining too far into Panmunjom can lead to a lot of trouble. South and North Korea have-technically- been in a state of war since the signing of the armistice. Neither nation owns Panmunjom. Both sides have observation posts lining the demilitarized zone. The Korea Time’s reporting that their are over a million Landmines that have been placed in the DMZ and over 1,000 casualties since 1953. Making travel into the area incredibly dangerous.

How did Private Travis King cross the border? We don’t know how Travis escaped. Witnesses described the event as chaotic, with an American soldier shouting, “Stop that man,” and the next, everything went quiet. Some claiming that Travis was laughing as he crossed the DMZ line.

Jacco Zwetsloot host of North Korea broadcast told the BBC.

“No way this person could escape from the airport one day and book on to one these tours the next.

What is Private King’s family saying?

Travis’s sister Jaqudea Gates told, NBC in a interview on Wednesday, ” I just think the story is way deeper than what I can imagine. I just feel deep down in my heart that my brother was afraid of something. Cause why would he run? You know.”

King’s mother, Claudine Gates, a resident of Racine, Wisconsin, in a interview with ABC news said: ” I can’t see Travis doing anything like that.” She continued, “I just want him to come home.”

The family called for America to fight to bring home, his Uncle Myron Gates telling Milwaukee Journal sentinel, “We can’t sleep. Everybody is hurting. The whole family is hurting.” He continued “A huge chunk of us is just missing. We’ve got to go on not knowing if we will ever see him again. Not knowing if the kid is alive. We’ve got to go on.”

The Story of Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins

Although, American civilian and military crossings are rare. In 1996, The New York Times reported; that North Korea possesses possible American POWs from the Korean War. However, the Pentagon denied the report saying that they did not possess any details of any Americans being held against their will in North Korea.

On January 5th, 1965, 24-year-old Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins was stationed at the DML after hearing rumors of being to sent to Vietnam & being ordered to lead “aggressive patrols.” He decided to abandon his post & desert to the North. Although, Jenkins was imprisoned with other united states defectors; Jerry Abshiner, James Dresnok, and Jerry Panish. Jenkins would later star in a series of communist propaganda films becoming a celebrity in the Peoples Republic. He would marry Hitomi Soga; a Japanese nurse who was kidnapped by the North Korea.

A change of fate happened in 2002 with the Japan–North Korea Pyongyang Declaration. An agreement that allowed for low-interest loans to the communist country, along with some human and economic aid. This allowed Jerkins’s wife Hitomni to travel to Japan for ten days; however, she did not return.

Pyongyang permitted Jerkins expatriation and allowed him to fly to Soejarno- Hatta International Airport in Indonesia. In 2004, reported to Lieutenant Colonel Paul Nigara at Camp Zama.

Jerkins Faced charges of desertion and aiding the enemy, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a month in the brig along with a demotion to private and a dishonorable discharge. After serving 26 days, he was released for model behavior. Jerkins spent the remainder of his life with his family on Sago Island in Japan.

Unfortunately, the other three soldiers, Jerry Abshiner, James Dresnok, and Jerry Panish remained in North Korea until their deaths.

The fight to bring Travis home.

Meanwhile, all this is happening at a time when North Korea is revitalizing its missile program. In an interview with ABC News, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Michael McCaul said: “That was the wrong place to go. But we see this with Russia, China, Iran-when they take an American, particularly a soldier, captive, they exact a price for that.”

On July 24, The United Nations started discussions with the North Korean military. UN Command deputy commander, Lieutenant General Andrew Harrison, told The New York Post: “the conversation has been initiated and conducted through a mechanism under the Korean War armistice.”

United States Military Personal are advised to purchase a special kind of life insurance called Service members’ Group Life Insurance. This insurance ensures if anything were to happen to active military members their family or friends would receive a large sum up to 400,000 dollars.

North Korea hasn’t made any comment on Travis King.

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