Last US defector to North Korea dies after suffering stroke, sons confirm

James Joseph Dresnok deserted by crossing the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone in 1962. He went on to appear in North Korean propaganda films.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2017 16:11 IST
Kim Jong-Un,Korean People’s Army,James Joseph Dresnok
Screengrab from an undated YouTube video released by Uriminzokkiri shows Ted and James Dresnok, the sons of US defector to North Korea James Joseph Dresnok.(AFP)

The only US soldier known still to be living in North Korea after defecting more than five decades ago died last year pledging loyalty to the “great leader Kim Jong-Un”, his sons said.

James Joseph Dresnok was among just a handful of American servicemen to desert following the 1950-53 Korean War, crossing the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone in 1962.

He went on to appear in North Korean propaganda films and was believed to be the last US military defector in the country, the others all having died or been allowed to leave.

In a video interview posted on the state-run Uriminzokkiri website, Ted and James Dresnok, his two adult sons, confirmed that their father suffered a fatal stroke in November last year.

“Our father was in the arms of the republic and received only the love and care of the party until his passing at age 74,” said Ted Dresnok, the elder of the two.

Brown-haired and hazel-eyed, he wore a Korean People’s Army uniform in the video like his brother, adorned with a badge depicting the North’s founder Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il.

Both men were born in North Korea and spoke Korean with a thick Northern accent.

“Our father asked us to render devoted service to our great leader Kim Jong-Un,” said Ted Dresnok, who also goes by the Korean name Hong Soon-Chol.

Their comments were similar to those of ordinary North Koreans, who normally only ever express officially approved sentiments when speaking for a foreign audience.

It was the brothers’ second appearance on the programme, after they praised the country in a May 2016 interview.

Their mother is said to have been Doina Bumbea, a Romanian whose family say she was kidnapped by Pyongyang.

Reports of Dresnok’s death emerged earlier this year but the brothers’ video is the first official confirmation.

The late James Dresnok, known as Joe, was 21, newly divorced and reportedly facing a court-martial when he made his way through the minefields that litter the DMZ to reach North Korea. He was the subject of a 2006 British documentary, “Crossing the Line”, which was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance film festival.

In it he expressed satisfaction with his life in Pyongyang, where citizens enjoy better standards of living than people elsewhere in the isolated country. Co-director Nick Bonner told AFP: “Joe seemed to have accepted he was going to remain in the north due to politics and ill health.

“Also his memory of life in the US was not so rosy, having grown up in an orphanage and not established himself.”

Dresnok once told a CBS interview he would not leave the North even if “you put a billion damn dollars of gold on the table”.

First Published: Aug 21, 2017 16:11 IST