Charles Jenkins, US soldier who defected to North Korea in 1965, dies in Japan
Charles Jenkins, one of a handful of United States military personnel who defected across the Demilitarised Zone to North Korea, has died in Japan. He was 77. Originally from North Carolina, Mr Jenkins was a sergeant in the US Army's 1st Cavalry Division and serving on the border with the North when he deserted in January 1965. Mr Jenkins subsequently told interviewers that he feared his unit's nighttime patrols were too provocative and would trigger a violent response from nearby North Korean troops or that he would be sent to Vietnam. Drinking heavily off duty, Mr Jenkins became depressed and claims that he convinced himself that after crossing into North Korea he would be handed over to the Soviet Union and eventually returned to the US in an exchange of Cold War prisoners. "I know I was not thinking clearly at the time and a lot of my decisions don't make sense now, but at the time they had a logic to them that made my actions seem almost inevitable", Mr Jenkins wrote in his 2008 memoirs, "The Reluctant Communist: My desertion, court-martial and 40-year imprisonment in North Korea". He was very quickly disabused of his initial expectations and he was held in a spartan room with three other American defectors for eight years. The four men were forced to memorise ideological books by Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North Korean nation, and they were beaten by their guards when they made errors. Charles Jenkins and James Dresnok Credit: AFP One of the other defectors, 21-year-old James Dresnok, also regularly assaulted Mr Jenkins, he claimed. The four men briefly evaded their guards in 1966 and asked for asylum at the Soviet embassy in Pyongyang, but their pleas were ignored. After six years of indoctrination, the four men were given citizenship, homes and a series of jobs. Mr Jenkins taught English at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and, in 1982, appeared as an evil American in the North Korean propaganda film "Unsung Heroes", which was the first confirmation to the US that he was still alive. Yet his life was miserable, he admitted in an interview with The Los Angeles Times earlier this year. "In North Korea, I lived a dog's life", he said. No ordinary people lived well in the North, he said, adding, "Nothing to eat. No running water. No electricity. In the wintertime you freeze - in my bedroom, the walls were covered in ice". In 1980, Mr Jenkins was introduced to Hitomi Soga, a trainees nurse who had been abducted with her mother from a beach in northern Japan in 1978. Ms Soga's mother was never seen again and she was forced to teach Japanese customs and the language to North Korean agents being infiltrated into Japan. Former U.S. army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins is escorted by his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga Credit: Reuters Within weeks, Mr Jenkins and Ms Soga were married and had two daughters, Roberta and Brinda. In 2002, Kim Jong-il attempted to improve relations with Japan and admitted that 13 Japanese citizens had been abducted by North Korean agents. The five that Mr Kim claimed had survived - including Ms Soga - were allowed to travel to Japan for what was expected to be a brief stay before returning to Pyongyang. Instead, they opted to remain in Japan. Mr Jenkins and his daughters were permitted to travel to Japan via Singapore in July 2004. Two months later, he presented himself in full uniform at the US Army's Camp Zama, west of Tokyo. In November, he pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and aiding the enemy and was sentenced to 30 days' confinement, a dishonourable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and benefits. Released one week early in late November, he settled with his wife and daughters on Sado Island, Ms Soga's home. In 2008, he obtained permanent residency in Japan and had been working in a shop in a local theme park. Charles Jenkins once said he "was not thinking clearly at the time" of his defection Credit: Reuters Mr Jenkins and the other deserters elicit little sympathy from US veterans who were also stationed in South Korea. "They were young, some had bad situations in their units or they succumbed to propaganda from the North, so they convinced themselves this was the solution", said Lance Gatling, who served in a US tank battalion stationed in South Korea from 1979 but is now a defence analyst and president of Tokyo-based Nexial Research Inc. "When I was there, newcomers to South Korea were briefed about these guys who had gone across the DMZ and it was clear that if they ever showed up again they would be court-martialed", he said. "The US Army does not forget or tolerate what they did. "I guess the best sentiment towards them would have been pity while the worst was that they should have been shot on sight", he added. "My feeling was that they had been forced to live in North Korea for 40 years; that would have been a miserable existence and punishment in itself".