The face of a young North Korean defector who attended the State of the Union address as President Donald Trump’s special guest lit up with excitement when asked about his first meeting with the president, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller.
Trump introduced the American people at the State of the Union address Tuesday to Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who overcame starvation, a tragic accident that left him physically disabled, the loss of loved ones, torture, and a challenging thousand-mile journey to freedom on a pair of wooden crutches.
A number of people gathered to take pictures with the president after Trump concluded his speech.
“There were so many American heroes in the waiting room,” Ji told The Daily Caller Thursday, recalling his feelings that night. “But, I was the first person to take a photo with the president.”
“I was nervous,” he said, admitting that he felt a little embarrassed, like he did not deserve such an honor.
The president appeared to pick up on Ji’s discomfort. “He comforted me and said he admired me for what I’d been through. He put a hand on my shoulder, hugged me, and gave me a wink,” Ji told The Daily Caller, smiling bright as he described his first meeting with Trump.
“It was unforgettable,” he added.
Ji grew up under the rule of a regime known for its callousness and brutality. As a teenager, he endured starvation during a famine that killed around one million North Korean people, his grandmother included.
A lack of food led him to rummage through the trash for food and steal coal from the rail yard to trade for scraps at local street markets each week. On one trip, a starving Ji passed out on the tracks. He woke up to a train running over him, tearing off large parts of his left leg and arm from his body.
North Korean surgeons amputated the tattered limbs, leaving him disabled and bound to a pair of wooden crutches that his father helped make for him. His father was later murdered by the regime for attempting to defect.
Ji was tormented for his disability, that North Korean leaders consider a stain on their society.
His escape from North Korea was “extremely painful,” and the arduous journey to freedom was fraught with challenges that nearly cost Ji his life or left him in tears and wanting to end it. Nevertheless, Ji persevered, and eventually made it to South Korea. He reunited with his mother and siblings in South Korea, where he was given prosthetic limbs to replace those he had lost.
A law student and an activist, Ji travels the world telling about horrors of the Kim regime. He also helps other defectors. He no longer needs his crutches, but he keeps them as a reminder of where he came from, what he has been through, and what he has achieved — a victory against all odds.
His crutches “symbolize freedom,” he told The Daily Caller.
He raised his crutches high in defiance of the Kim regime Tuesday at the State of the Union address. Ji’s “great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all,” Trump said in his address, adding, “Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”
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