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This is a list of the twenty-two United Nations soldiers and POWs (one Briton and 21 Americans) who declined repatriation to the United Kingdom and United States after the Korean War, and their subsequent fates.



Prisoner repatriation was one of the greatest stumbling blocks in the long cease-fire negotiations between the forces of the United Nations and those of China and North Korea. The warring factions finally agreed on an exchange of sick and wounded prisoners, Operation Little Switch, which was carried out in April and May 1953. That June, the two sides agreed that no prisoner who did not wish to be repatriated would be forced to do so (this had long been a sticking point in negotiations, with the Chinese and North Koreans wanting all prisoners returned to their home countries). Prisoners who did not wish to go back to their home countries would be given 90 days in neutral territory to reconsider before being allowed to stay in enemy territory. Following the armistice that was signed on July 27, 1953, effectively ending the Korean War (South Korea never signed), the main prisoner exchange was free to proceed.

Operation Big Switch, the exchange of remaining prisoners of war, commenced in early August 1953, and lasted into December. 75,823 Communist fighters (70,183 North Koreans, 5,640 Chinese) were returned to their homelands. 12,773 U.N. soldiers (7,862 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans, and 946 British) were sent back south across the armistice line. Over 22,000 Communist soldiers, mostly North Koreans, refused repatriation. Similarly, 1 British and 23 American soldiers (along with 327 South Koreans) also refused to be returned to their homelands. Two, Corporal Claude Batchelor and Corporal Edward Dickenson, changed their minds before the 90-day window expired. Both were court-martialed and sentenced to prison terms, with Batchelor serving 4 1/2 years and Dickenson 3 1/2.[1]

Shortly before the deadline was about to expire, Americans south of the DMZ broadcast a message to the defectors in Panmunjeom, saying "We believe that there are some of you who desire repatriation." Defector Richard Corden (see below) shouted "Do any Americans want to go home?", and his fellow detainees answered "No!".

That left 22 U.N. soldiers who voluntarily stayed behind with the Communists after the final exchange of prisoners. The 21 Americans were all given dishonorable discharges. This had the unintended consequence of rendering them immune to court-martial when they finally returned to the United States, which the majority eventually did, because they were no longer active-duty military.

The 22 who stayed

  • Cpl. Clarence Adams was a black soldier from Memphis, Tennessee. Adams cited racial discrimination in the USA as the reason he refused repatriation. While a prisoner, Adams took classes in Communist political theory, and afterwards lectured other prisoners in the camps. During the Vietnam War, Adams did propaganda broadcasts for Radio Hanoi from their Chinese office, telling black American soldiers not to fight. He married a Chinese woman and lived in China until the increasingly anti-Western atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution led him to return to the United States in 1966. Adams was charged with treason by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but charges were dismissed.[2] He later started a Chinese restaurant business in Memphis. Clarence Adams died in 1999. His autobiography An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China was posthumously published in 2007 by his daughter Della Adams and Lewis H. Carlson.[3]
  • Sgt. Howard Adams worked in a factory in China. He refused all media requests for interviews.[4]
  • Sgt. Albert Belhomme was a native of Belgium who immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He lived in China for ten years, working in a paper factory, before returning to Belgium.[4]
  • Cpl. Otho Bell was sent to a collective farm with William Cowart and Lewis Griggs (see below). Bell described himself, Cowart and Griggs as "the dummy bunch", saying they were sent to the farm because they could not learn Chinese. They returned to the United States together in 1955, were arrested, but were released when it was found that the military no longer had jurisdiction over the defectors after they were dishonorably discharged. Bell died in 2003.[4]
  • Sgt. Andrew Condron, a Scotsman of the 41st Royal Marines, was the only Briton to decline repatriation. He returned to Britain in 1960, and faced no disciplinary action.
  • Sgt. Richard Corden continued to favor communism even after returning to the United States in 1958.[4] He died in 1988.
  • Cpl. William Cowart returned with Bell and Griggs. Later the three soldiers sued for their back pay. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which held that Bell, Cowart and Griggs were entitled to their back pay from the time they were captured to the time they were dishonorably discharged.[5]
  • Sgt. Rufus Douglas died in China a few months after arrival in 1954. The manner of his death is not certain but is believed to have been from natural causes.[4]
  • Cpl. John Roedel Dunn married a Czechoslovakian woman while in China and settled in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.[4]
  • Sgt. Andrew Fortuna won two Bronze Stars before he was captured. He returned to the United States in 1957 and died in 1984.[4]
  • Lewis Wayne Griggs returned with Bell and Cowart in 1955. He was listed as a senior majoring in sociology at Stephen F. Austin State University, graduating in 1959.[6][7] He died in 1984.
  • Pfc. Samuel David Hawkins returned to the United States in 1957, and successfully petitioned the government to change his discharge from dishonorable to other than honorable. He raised a family, and has given interviews to the press on the condition that his location not be disclosed.[4]
  • Cpl. Arlie Pate worked in a paper mill before returning with Aaron Wilson (see below) in 1956. He died in 1999.[4]
  • Sgt. Scott Rush married in China. After living in China ten years, he and his wife moved back to the United States and settled in the Midwest.[4]
  • Cpl. Lowell Skinner's mother begged him to come home over the radio at the time of the prisoner exchange, to no avail. He married in China, but left his wife behind when he came back to America in 1963. Later he would have problems with alcohol and spent six months in a psychiatric hospital. He died in 1995.[8]
  • LaRance Sullivan came home in 1958 and died in 2001.[4]
  • Pfc. Richard Tenneson came home in 1955. He went to Louisiana a few months later to welcome home fellow defector Aaron Wilson (see below). He settled in Utah before dying in 2001.[4]
  • Pvt. James Veneris stayed in China and became a dedicated communist, taking the Chinese name 'Lao Wen'. He worked in a steel mill, participated in the Great Leap Forward, hung posters during the Cultural Revolution, married three times, and had children. He visited the United States in 1976 but returned to China, where he is buried.[9]
  • Sgt. Harold Webb married a Polish woman in China and moved to Poland in 1960. In 1988, he was given permission to settle in the United States.[4] He is the subject of the Youth Defense League song Turncoat about rejection of a Korean War defector seeking a return to America.[10]
  • Cpl. William White married and got a bachelor's degree in international law while in China. He returned to the United States in 1965.[4]
  • Cpl. Morris Wills played basketball for Peking University and got married in China. He came back to America in 1965 and got a job in the Asian Studies Department at Harvard University. His autobiography, Turncoat: An American's 12 Years in Communist China, was published in 1966. He died in 1999.[4]
  • Cpl. Aaron Wilson came home in 1956, married an American girl, and worked in his Louisiana hometown's mill.[4]


  • "This is the greatest country in the world, and maybe when I was 17 years old I didn't know it, but I do now."—Aaron Wilson
  • "Traitor, yeah, they called me a traitor. But I wasn't really."—Sam Hawkins[4]
  • "It is impossible to fight for peace in the United States. Anyone who tries to fight for peace will be prosecuted and even put to death."—Arlie Pate, after refusing repatriation
  • "Each and every one of these ingrates should receive a dishonorable discharge, and thereby be forever barred from any consideration for war veterans' benefits."—U.S. Rep. William C. Cole, in 1954
  • "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it in the wink of an eyelash."—James Veneris[9]
  • "You are supposedly fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese, but what kind of freedom do you have at home, sitting in the back of the bus, being barred from restaurants, stores and certain neighborhoods, and being denied the right to vote. ... Go home and fight for equality in America."-Clarence Adams, to black American soldiers in South Vietnam over Radio Hanoi[3]


They Chose China (2005), a 52-minute documentary film, directed by Shui-Bo Wang. Includes interviews with Samuel Hawkins and the families of Clarence Adams and James Veneris (both of whom were already deceased when the film was made), and archived interviews with Veneris and Adams.


  • Turncoat: An American's 12 Years in Communist China, by Morris Wills and J. Robert Moskin.
  • 21 Stayed: The Story of the American GIs Who Chose Communist China, by Virginia Pasley.
  • The Korean War, by Max Hastings. See Chapter 16, "The Prisoners".
  • An American Dream : The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China, by Clarence Adams. ISBN 9781558495951.

See also

Six American servicemen are known to have defected to North Korea after the war. They are:

References and external links



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