Army deserter Charles Jenkins apologized when he returned to NC in 2005

Frederick Owens
December 13, 2017

A United States soldier who defected to North Korea more than 50 years ago has died in Japan aged 77.

"I knew before arriving that I'd been tried and convicted by public opinion", Jenkins said while standing on the walkway of his sister's house with his wife, Hitomi Soga, at his side. The cause was not immediately announced.

James Joseph Dresnok, the only USA soldier known still to have been living in North Korea after defecting more than five decades ago, died in November 2016, his sons confirmed in August. In a 2006 interview with The Independent, he called it "the biggest mistake I ever made".

But who is Charles Robert Jenkins?

Jenkins and the couple's daughters remained in North Korea, but were allowed to leave in 2004.

He said he thought he would be handed over to the Soviet Union and eventually returned to the one of the semi-regular prisoner exchanges that were a fixture of the Cold War. "You say one thing bad about Kim Il-sung and then you dig your own hole, because you're gone", Jenkins told his court martial, referring to the founder of the secretive state.

The life of ex-US Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins as a defector to North Korea reads like dramatic novel.

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Jenkins and his family lived in Soga's hometown of Sado, where he was a popular worker at a local souvenir shop and could often be seen posing in photos with visiting tourists.

While in North Korea, Jenkins appeared in propaganda films and taught English at a school that included spies and military cadets, though he never made it past the seventh grade growing up in the Northampton County farming community of Rich Square, about 25 miles southeast of Weldon.

His wife Hitomi Soga released a statement saying she was "very shocked by this sudden incident".

In 1972, he was granted North Korean citizenship and given a simple home. North Korea has acknowledged the abductions and allowed Soga and four others to visit Japan in 2002, where they stayed. Together they had two daughters.

After his release, Jenkins served 25 days in a US military brig and was debriefed for two months about his knowledge of the secretive regime and its sensitive installations.

"In North Korea, I lived a dog's life".

"Thinking back now, I was a fool".

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