In 1979, U.S. Army PFC Ryeu Sup “Roy” Chung was officially reported as AWOL. The date was June 5, and he had vanished from his unit, Troop C, First Squadron, Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in Germany. Notably, while sometimes identified as a Korean-American, Chung was a Korean citizen who had lived in the U.S. for a significant period. His religious beliefs strongly leaned towards Christianity. The commander’s assessment at that time found no signs pointing to defection, drug involvement, or any foul play.
In a startling development, North Korean broadcasts soon claimed that Chung was now in North Korea. When questioned at Panmunjom, North Korean officials initially declined to comment. They later stated that Chung had fled to North Korea, unable to tolerate the oppressive conditions in the “imperialist U.S. Army.”
Defections to North Korea, especially from the DMZ, were not uncommon and such individuals often became the subjects of North Korean propaganda. See our declassified files on US Army defectors to North Korea. However, Chung’s family didn’t believe he defected, and little information about him surfaced after his disappearance.
Several years ago DMZ War obtained a previously classified 1993 State Department document through the Freedom of Information Act. Although there are discrepancies in dates and names (the subject is mentioned as Chong In-Sik), it speaks of a similar situation. The report suggests that in 1980, a Korean-American U.S. military personnel defected in Germany, subsequently traversing through Czechoslovakia and Russia to reach North Korea. Unfortunately, upon his arrival in October 1980, he was incarcerated in a special facility, Song Heli (phn), reserved for high-risk prisoners, located approximately 50 kilometers NE of Pyongyang. Tragically, this individual reportedly faced brutal treatment and died on January 1, 1986, due to assault by prison guards.
DMZ War continues to pursue information that might confirm whether this individual was indeed PFC Chung. Anyone with insights or information is urged to contact us: [email protected]
Of note, during the time Chung disappeared, North Korean agents were believed to be abducting South Koreans and other nationals in various global locations, including Europe. An earlier U.S. Army intelligence document, dating back to 1962, unveiled that a captured North Korean commando divulged that one of their mission objectives was the abduction of U.S. servicemen for North Korea.
As far as we can tell, the U.S. government failed to exert substantial efforts to investigate Chung’s disappearance or attempt his retrieval. Factors that might have influenced this include possible assumptions of his defection, his Korean citizenship, and a broader neglect towards American servicemen rumored to be in North Korea. We’ve seen no evidence the government shared the 1993 State Department document with Chung’s family, whom we’ve been unable to locate.
The same informant who revealed the information about the possible imprisonment of the defector also provided a list of other detainees at the facility, encompassing Japanese nationals and several ethnic-Korean Japanese who had previously migrated to North Korea.