Last U.S. Defector to N. Korea Feels at Home

The last known American defector to North Korea says he now feels "at home" in the North and "wouldn't trade it for nothing," but his eyes well with tears at images of his hometown in Virginia.

James Joseph Dresnok, 65, who switched sides over 40 years ago, said he has no plans to return to the United States, according to a documentary that premiered at a South Korean film festival Monday.

In the film, "Crossing the Line," Dresnok explains that he decided to defect because he was fed up with army life and because he was facing punishment for falsifying a signature on his leave papers.

The documentary says he and three fellow American defectors once tried to leave North Korea by seeking asylum at the then-Soviet Union's embassy in Pyongyang but were turned down.

After the failed escape, Dresnok said he worked hard to blend in, and that now he has no regrets about moving to the communist country.

"I really feel at home. I was just a regular soldier. I gave it up, came over. I wouldn't trade it for nothing," Dresnok says.

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But the documentary, which comes as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea mount over the communist state's recent nuclear test, also shows him tearing up while viewing images of Richmond, Va., his hometown.

The movie portrays a cheerful Dresnok speaking fluent Korean, fishing with companions and visiting a clothing store — as well as quoting the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. Portraits of Kim and his son, Kim Jong Il, the country's current leader, hang in his apartment.

A large, heavyset man, Dresnok wears large gold-rimmed glasses, with his gray hair slicked back. His teeth have gold caps. The documentary says Dresnok suffers from heart disease and was hospitalized for a lengthy period in May.

"Crossing the Line," directed by Daniel Gordon and narrated by Hollywood actor Christian Slater, held its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea.

Dresnok, Charles Jenkins, Jerry Wayne Parrish and Larry Allen Abshier allegedly defected to North Korea while stationed at the Korean Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas in 1963.

Jenkins, who surrendered to U.S. authorities and served a month in jail for desertion, now lives in Japan. He testified in a military court in Tokyo in November 2004 that Parrish died of an abdominal infection in 1996 while in North Korean custody, and Abshier died of a heart attack in 1983.

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That leaves Dresnok as the only known living American defector in North Korea.

Dresnok described an unstable childhood home and said his first wife cheated on him while he was away on military duty. Dresnok's current wife is the daughter of a diplomat from the West African country of Togo and a North Korean woman, according to the documentary.

Dresnok said he struggled living in North Korea after moving there.

"I was a little uncomfortable, a different race, a different color, different customs, a different ideology," he said. "The uneasiness of the way people looked at me when I walked down the street, 'Ah, there goes that American bastard.'"

After the failed asylum bid, Dresnok said he worked hard to blend into North Korean society, quoting Kim Il Sung as saying he believed in acceptance.

He said he learned Korean language, customs and greetings, and that he studied North Korea's "juche" philosophy of self-reliance, noting his studies "were the same as a Korean."

Dresnok said his attitude was, "I might be a different race, I might be a different color, but goddamn it, I will sit down and I'm going to learn their way of life."