James Joseph Dresnok
American defector
James Joseph Dresnok
James Joseph Dresnok is an American defector to North Korea, one of six American soldiers to defect after the Korean War. Dresnok worked as an actor and an English teacher in Pyongyang. He was featured on the CBS magazine program 60 Minutes on January 28, 2007, as the last United States defector alive in North Korea, and was the subject of a documentary film entitled Crossing the Line.
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    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 2014
    Age 73
    James joined the Korean military in 2014, and in 2016 reported he held a rank equivalent to that of Captain in the US Army.
    More Details Hide Details Both James Jr. and Ted Dresnok are now married and have children of their own in North Korea. Dresnok has stated that he intends to spend the rest of his life in North Korea, and that no amount of money could entice him back to the West. Now retired, Dresnok occasionally gives lectures in North Korea and goes fishing “just to pass the time.”
  • 2007
    Age 66
    Jenkins's book also mentions this, but claims that she was abducted in order to be the wife of one of the American deserters. The Romanian Foreign Office's website says that in 2007 Romania asked North Korea to explain Bumbea's abduction but it did not receive an answer.
    More Details Hide Details Bumbea reportedly died of lung cancer in 1997. After Bumbea's death, Dresnok married his second wife, the daughter of a North Korean woman and a Togolese diplomat. They had a son in 2001. The family lives in a small apartment in Pyongyang, provided along with a monthly stipend by the North Korean government. Dresnok is in failing health, with a bad heart and liver (Dresnok describes his liver as "full of fat"), which he attributes to smoking and drinking too much. His younger son from his second marriage, James Dresnok, was a student at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, where his father taught English in the 1980s. James speaks English with a Korean accent and considers himself Korean but reportedly does not wish to marry a Korean woman.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1978
    Age 37
    Beginning in 1978, he was cast in several North Korean films, including the 20-part series Unsung Heroes (as an American villain), and became a celebrity in the country as a result.
    More Details Hide Details He is called "Arthur" by his Korean friends, after the character he played in the series. He also translated some of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung’s writings into English. According to Jenkins's book The Reluctant Communist, Dresnok was something of a bully, betraying the other Americans' confidences to the North Koreans, and enthusiastically beat up Jenkins 30 or more times on the orders of their Korean handlers. In the documentary Crossing the Line, Dresnok vehemently denies these allegations. Dresnok asserts that "because of the sanctions of the US Government and Japanese", during the North Korean famine of the 1990s, he was always given his full food ration by the government. “Why? Why do they let their own people starve to death to feed an American?," he asks. “The Great Leader has given us a special solicitude. The government is going to take care of me until my dying day.”
  • TWENTIES
  • 1966
    Age 25
    In 1966, the four men tried to leave North Korea by seeking asylum at the Soviet embassy in Pyongyang, but the embassy immediately turned them over to North Korean authorities.
    More Details Hide Details After that, Dresnok decided to settle in North Korea.
  • 1962
    Age 21
    Unwilling to face punishment, on August 15, 1962, while his fellow soldiers were eating lunch, he ran across a minefield in broad daylight into North Korean territory, where he was quickly apprehended by North Korean soldiers.
    More Details Hide Details Dresnok was taken by train to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and interrogated. "I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life, everything. I was a goon. There's only one place to go," Dresnok said in an 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 met Larry Allen Abshier, another American defector, soon after his arrival. Eventually there were four of them: Larry Abshier, Jerry Parrish, Charles Robert Jenkins, and Dresnok. The men lived together and participated in several propaganda efforts on behalf of the North Korean government. They appeared on magazine covers and used loudspeakers to try to persuade more American soldiers at the border to defect. But they did not wish to remain in North Korea indefinitely at first.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1941
    Age 0
    Born in 1941.
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