Travis King, Korea

Black American Soldier Detained In North Korea Returns To U.S. Custody

In a peculiar turn of events, a U.S. official confirmed that Travis King, the young American soldier who crossed into North Korea from South Korea in July, is back in U.S. custody. North Korea had announced its decision to expel King, claiming he had confessed to illegally entering the country.

U.S. officials reported that King appeared in good health and high spirits as he returned home. The Pentagon spokesperson, Brigadier Gen. Patrick Ryder, expressed appreciation for the extensive efforts by U.S. military personnel and the cooperation of the governments of Sweden and the People’s Republic of China in bringing Private King home.

According to North Korea’s KCNA, they decided to expel the soldier who had illegally entered their territory in compliance with their laws. According to a U.S. official, King was transferred to China before being placed in U.S. custody.

The incident unfolded when Private 2nd Class King was on a guided tour of the border village of Panmunjom while in South Korea. He had absconded from an airport in Seoul, where he was scheduled to board a flight back to the U.S.

North Korea alleged that King had expressed grievances against alleged “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army” during its investigation. Still, the U.S. military couldn’t verify these claims.

King was initially set to return to the U.S. after serving time at a detention facility in South Korea for assaulting two people and damaging a police car during his stay in the country. However, he departed from his U.S. military escort at the airport, skipped his flight, and joined a civilian tour group bound for the border town, where he crossed into North Korea.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, highlighted her son’s numerous reasons for returning home to the U.S., emphasizing the presence of family and a strong desire to reunite with them.

King’s journey in the U.S. Army began in January 2021, and he had not yet been deployed for active duty. He had been stationed in South Korea as part of the Pentagon’s regular Korean Force Rotation. Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul speculated that King might have appeared “unsuitable for propaganda purposes” to North Korea, as he entered their territory as a fugitive, which presented challenges for North Korean authorities. Yang also noted that North Korea’s decision to deport King could have been influenced by the lukewarm response from the U.S. in handling the incident.


This article was written by Black Enterprise Contributor Rafael Pena.