One of the little known facts about US military involvement in South Korea, during the Korean War and thereafter, was that there were several American defectors to North Korea. Twenty-one GIs refused to return to the United States from North Korean and Chinese prisoner-of-war camps though most of those ended up in the US eventually. Since the armistice there have been other US defectors:
Larry Allen Abshier (1962)
James Joseph Dresnok (1962)
Jerry Wayne Parrish (1963)
Charles Robert Jenkins (1965)
Roy Chung (1979)
Joseph T. White (1982)
One by one these men died in North Korea or returned to the US. Except one: James Joseph Dresnok. Now it has been reported that he has died:
James Dresnok, the last known US soldier living in North Korea after defecting, has died aged 74.
His sons – both born in North Korea – told a state media outlet their father had died in November last year, and was loyal to North Korea until the end.
Dresnok crossed the dangerous Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) marking the border with North Korea in 1962.
Dresnok couldn’t even claim to be an ideological defector. He was facing court martial in his unit, his marriage, unsurprisingly, was failing, and he absconded:
According to Dresnok and other interviewees, at the time of his defection he was divorced and left his camp for the nearby town without permission on a forged signature.
He was facing court martial for the offence, another soldier from his camp told the filmmakers.
Speaking about his decision to defect, Dresnok said he was “fed up”.
“To hell with this – I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life. Everything – I was finished,” he said.
“There’s only one place to go.”
He left at lunchtime on 15 August 1962, not sure if he would survive the trip across the DMZ.
But he survived, eventually starting a new life and a new family on the other side.
The family he started was with a Romanian woman, Doina Bumbea, who was one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of foreigners kidnapped by the North Koreans. His sons are fairly prominent in North Korea:
Their names are Ted and James, and they look like the kinds of men you might bump into on the streets of Richmond, Va., where their father was born.
But they’re speaking perfect North Korean and wearing badges of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the first two leaders of North Korea, over their hearts. Oh, and the younger one, James, is a captain in the North Korean army.
They’re the Pyongyang-born sons of James Joseph Dresnok, the former American GI who defected to North Korea in 1962 when he was stationed in South Korea after the war.
He taught English and appeared in television shows and movies — always playing the “evil American.”
Like their father, the two sons also have appeared as Americans in North Korean dramas.
Apparently, Dresnok was loyal to his adopted homeland until the end and his children seem just as devoted. Hopefully, this chapter of our relationship with North Korea is closed forever.