US defector to North Korea dies, aged 74

SEOUL • 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.

Mr James Joseph Dresnok was among just a handful of American servicemen to desert the army following the 1950-1953 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, his two adult sons Ted and James Dresnok confirmed that their father suffered a fatal stroke in November last year.

"Our father was in the arms of the republic and received the love and care of the party until his passing at age 74," said Mr Ted Dresnok, the older 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.

The brothers 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 Mr Ted Dresnok, who also goes by the Korean name Hong Soon Chol.

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

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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'US defector to North Korea dies, aged 74'. Print Edition | Subscribe