WASHINGTON, D.C. – It was a memorable moment during President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech: a man who defected from North Korea hoisting his crutches into the air in triumph.
Ji Seong-ho fled the rogue country more than a decade ago. He said he was a starving beggar who was subjected to physical torment by the North Korean regime.
During his speech, the president shared Ji’s story. He recounted how, as a boy, Ji’s limbs were run over by a train after he collapsed on the tracks.
Ji grew up in the 1990s when North Korea’s food distribution system collapsed and scavenged coal to help his family, hoping to sell it so they would have enough money to buy food. He passed out from exhaustion and then discovered that a train had run over him. He ended up losing his left hand and foot—he said he received nothing to dull the pain during the amputations.
North Korean authorities tortured him after he came back from a short trip to China with rice. He escaped in 2006, fleeing through China and other countries before making it to South Korea. He traversed the distance on wooden crutches his father made for him–the same ones he raised during Tuesday’s speech.
“I think I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t live for any single more day,” Ji told ABC News through an interpreter during an interview Wednesday. “And even if it means I would die by risking crossing the border, that was so worth it because I just wanted to live one single day as a genuine human being.”
He was touched by the ovation he received Tuesday night as a special guest of the president.
“I was deeply moved to tears and deeply overwhelmed,” Ji said in the interview. “I was once a beggar in North Korea and I was an amputee, and I was threatened severely by the North Korean regime and they physically tormented me.”
Ji has made it his mission to tell the world about the oppressive North Korea regime and runs a group that advocates for human rights. He believes the president should continue to put pressure on the regime.
“I think it is surely the very wise and the right course of action that the president of the United States is taking,” Ji said. “I think the U.S. president is wisest when he applies maximum pressure on the North.”
Information from CNN was used in this report