Last American soldier who defected to North Korea is dead, sons say

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Story highlights

  • James Joseph Dresnok defected to North Korea in 1962
  • His sons live in North Korea and appeared in a propaganda video last year

(CNN)James Joseph Dresnok, believed to be the last remaining US soldier in North Korea, died last year, two of his sons said in video posted on a North Korean state-run news site.

He died of a stroke after receiving medical attention for an undisclosed condition, his sons said. He was 74.
    Dresnok defected to North Korea in 1962 in a daring dash across the heavily fortified demilitarized zone that divides the totalitarian country from South Korea.
    Once in North Korea Dresnok was often used for propaganda purposes. He even appeared as American bad guys in the country's movies.
    "My father lived in the arms of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) until the time of his death," Ted Dresnok said in the video, which was posted on North Korea's state-run Uriminzokkiri website.
    "I have no other regrets except him (not) living longer to receive love and care from the party. My father had a truly happy life in the arms of the nation," said Dresnok's other son, James. Both men spoke in fluent Korean, which CNN has translated.
    It was unclear when the video was made, or whether the two men appeared under duress.
    The Dresnok sons, believed to be in their 30s, appeared in another video last year, blaming "American imperialism" for tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

    Crossing the line

    Dresnok explained his decision to defect in a 2006 documentary, "Crossing the Line."
    He told British filmmakers Daniel Gordon and Nick Bonner that when he defected, he was divorced and serving on DMZ stakeout posts. He also was about to be court-martialed for forging his sergeant's signature to go see a woman.
    "I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life, everything," he said. "There's only one place to go."
    He said he hit the road at broad daylight, eventually crossing into North Korea.
    Dresnok was among a handful of US soldiers who defected to North Korea. By the time the documentary was released, he was the only American defector left in the country, according to the film.
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    Propaganda tools

    According to fellow defector Robert Jenkins, Dresnok eventually married a woman from Romania who said she was tricked into traveling to Pyongyang and was not allowed to leave.
    North Korea was notorious for kidnapping foreigners, especially South Koreans and Japanese citizens, for domestic purposes in the 1970s and 80s.
    Former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was said to have organized the abduction of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband Shin Sang-ok, a film director. Kim, a noted film aficionado who was running the country's movie studio at the time, hoped to use the pair to revamp North Korean cinema.
    Though some kidnappees were used for propaganda purposes, others were used for other domestic reasons.
    In 2002, North Korea admitted for the first time to kidnapping at least 17 Japanese citizens and allowed five abduction victims to return home. Information on the remaining victims was sketchy at best, and it's possible that dozens more were kidnapped. Some were married off to other foreigners -- like Jenkins' wife -- while others taught Japanese for covert and military purposes.
    The cases of the Japanese nationals kidnapped has remained a sticking point in negotiations to normalize relations between the two countries.
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    North Korean accents

    Though the younger Dresnok brothers don't look North Korean, they certainly sound it.
    A language expert told CNN last year that the two spoke Korean fluently with distinct North Korean accents. What they say -- assailing the United States for threatening North Korea and praising the Kim family for its leadership -- is similar in tone to the propaganda put out by North Korean state media.
    "From the time we were born we live under the care and love of the leader. We're given everything including our clothes, school uniform, pencils and notes as gifts," the younger James Dresnok said in the latest video.
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    Ted Dresnok also commented about the recent United Nations sanctions levied against North Korea and the increasingly heated rhetoric between his country and the US.
    "The US imperialists, without understanding our people and country, are raising the tensions of war. However, through the history of confrontations between North Korea and the US, we have enjoyed only victories while the US experienced defeats," he said.
    "Our country, despite all sanctions, has everything we need and we have accomplished all we need. We're certain of our victory. If the enemy provokes us, we will not miss this chance but demolish the land called the US from the surface of the Earth."
    North Korea's state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun published a similar warning Monday, saying "It is the truth and law of history that no one can conquer the army and people of the DPRK who turned out in the battle to defend their country under the guidance of the great leader with belief in the justice of their cause and their strength ... Definite is the US defeat."