The death of James Dresnok, the American soldier who defected to North Korea in 1962, has been confirmed by Dresnok’s sons. Dresnok died of a stroke in November 2016 at the age of 74. He is believed to have been the last American defector still living in North Korea.
Dresnok's sons Ted and James (both born in North Korea to Dresnok's wife Doina) spoke of their father's death in a new video released by the DPRK government. "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.
According to a 2007 episode of 60 Minutes about the lives of the American soldiers who defected, Dresnok was an American soldier stationed along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in 1962. He faced a court-martial for forging signatures on documents that would have given him permission to leave the base. To escape punishment, Dresnok crossed the DMZ in broad daylight and entered North Korea.
"I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life, everything. I was finished. There's only one place to go," Dresnok said during his 60 Minutes interview. "On August 15th, at noon in broad daylight when everybody was eating lunch, I hit the road. Yes I was afraid. Am I gonna live or die? And when I stepped into the minefield and I seen it with my own eyes, I started sweating. I crossed over, looking for my new life."
Dresnok worked as an English teacher, translator, and an actor during his time in the DPRK, including a role as a villainous American soldier in the North Korean tv series Unsung Heroes (about a spy in Seoul during the Korean War).
Speaking of his defection in a 2006 interview with the BBC, Dresnok said that he "wouldn't trade it for nothin."
"I have never regretted coming to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I feel at home," said Dresnok in the BBC interview. However, the 60 Minutes interview claimed that Dresnok and the other Americans attempted to leave the DPRK by seeking asylum in the Soviet embassy in 1966. The Soviets refused their request and returned them to the North Koreans.
"Different customs. A different ideology," Dresnok told 60 Minutes when asked why he wanted to leave in 1966. "The uneasiness of the way people look at me when I walk down the street. 'Oh, there goes that American bastard.' I didn't want to stay, I didn't think I could adapt."
After the Korean War, a total of five or six American soldiers are believed to have defected to the DPRK. Dresnok was the second of them. Four of them are confirmed to be dead, and the fifth's (Roy Chung) fate is unknown. Chung's family believe that the DPRK abducted him, and unconfirmed reports claim he died in 1986. No American has defected to the DPRK since 1982.