He Defected to North Korea, Came to Bitterly Regret It

Charles Jenkins ultimately left North Korea for Japan in 2004
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2017 2:39 AM CST
Updated Dec 16, 2017 9:10 AM CST
US Soldier Who Defected to North Korea in 1965 Dies
In this June 14, 2005 photo, Charles Jenkins is seen with his daughters Mika, rear left, and Brinda at Narita International Airport, east of Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye, File)

Former US Army soldier Charles Jenkins, who drank a few beers and slipped across the DMZ to defect to North Korea on a January night some 52 years ago, has died in Japan. He was 77. Jenkins, who feared being killed on patrol or being sent to Vietnam, had planned to seek asylum at the Russian embassy and return to the US in a prisoner swap, but he came to bitterly regret the 1965 desertion, the BBC reports. North Korea held him and other Americans prisoner and he endured brutal mistreatment including the removal of a US Army tattoo without anesthetic. Jenkins, who grew up in North Carolina and left school at 15, taught English in North Korea and played American villains in propaganda movies. He married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese citizen kidnapped by North Korea, in 1980.

Soga was allowed to return to Japan in 2002. Two years later, Jenkins and their two daughters joined her in Indonesia before flying to Japan. Jenkins, in uniform, reported for duty at the US Army headquarters in Japan and was sentenced to 25 days in a US military prison in Japan before receiving a dishonorable discharge, the Guardian reports. He spent the rest of his days living in her hometown of Sado in northern Japan, where he worked as a greeter in a local souvenir shop, reports the AP. He collapsed outside his home Monday and died of heart failure. In August, he told the Los Angeles Times that he still worried about what Pyongyang might do to him and his family. "North Korea, give them enough money, you don't know what they'll do," he said. "North Korea wants me dead." (More North Korea stories.)

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