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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Defector Praises N. Korea

PUSAN, South Korea -- Even at 64 years old and in failing health, James Dresnok projects an imposing figure. Nearly two meters tall with a huge frame and giant jowls, he speaks into the camera with a firm, distinct Southern accent. Metal teeth glint as he talks. "I will give you the truth; I've never told anyone before," says Mr. Dresnok, a former soldier, a defector and, for the last 44 years, a resident of Pyongyang, North Korea.

Having already served in Germany, Dresnok re-enlisted after a bitter divorce and was assigned to South Korea, but his bitterness led him to spend his money on prostitutes and drinking. "I was fed up. If I died or I lived, I didn't care." At noon on Aug. 15, 1962, with a court martial looming for forging a pass, Dresnok took the shotgun he was cleaning and, wearing his fatigues, walked across the DMZ in broad daylight.

Dresnok says he is a true believer in the North Korean system. He is proud that two of his three sons attend the prestigious Foreign Language School in Pyongyang, saying he could never have afforded such an education back home. "I don't want my sons to be an illiterate old man like me." Although Pyongyang is poor by Western standards, it is the city of the elite for North Koreans.

While talking about the North Korean famines of the 1990's, he says that, despite the hundreds of thousands who died, the North Koreans never cut his rations. "Why? Why do they let their own people starve to death to feed an American?" he asks as he tears up. "The Great Leader has given us a special solicitude. The government is going to take care of me until my dying day."