US Army deserter who spent decades in N.Korea dies at 77

Camp Zama an American base southwest of Tokyo in 2004. Credit Toshiyuki Aizawa  Reuters

For the first 15 years of his time in North Korea, Jenkins lived with other three US soldiers who defected to Pyongyang, as Jenkins recalled in his 2009 memoir The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea.

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. North Korea held him and other Americans prisoner and he endured brutal mistreatment including the removal of a US Army tattoo without anesthetic.

Charles Robert Jenkins was a 24-year-old army sergeant nicknamed "Scooter" when he disappeared while on patrol near the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea in January 1965.

Jenkins met his wife Hitomi Soga, who was kidnapped by Pyongyang in 1978, in North Korea and the couple had two daughters, Mika and Blinda.

The Japanese government granted him permanent residency and he lived in Soga's hometown on Sado, a picturesque island in the Sea of Japan.

"I was so ignorant", Jenkins told The Washington Post in a 2008 interview, describing his life in North Korea as like living in a "giant, demented prison".

North Korean agents kidnapped Soga and a number of other ordinary Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s in order to train its spies in the Japanese language and culture. Within two weeks they were forced to marry, according to Mr Jenkins, but they eventually fell in love, bonded by their mutual hatred of their captors.

"Thinking back now, I was a fool".

"I had never seen anybody so attractive", Jenkins recalled in his memoir, "She was wearing a white blouse, a white skirt, and white high-heel shoes".

After heading to Japan, Jenkins was court-martialled by the U.S. military for deserting but given only a 30-day confinement.

In the end, it was Soga who provided Jenkins with safety and an escape route from North Korea. Two years after her release, Pyongyang allowed Jenkins to walk free along with their daughters.

Jenkins, who is originally from Rich Square, N.C., pleaded guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy and was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 25 days in a US military jail in Japan. Instead, he became a prisoner in North Korea.

"My life is not worth five cents, I know that", he told The Independent in 2006. "So I figure might as well stay where I'm at".

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