Ex-US Army soldier Charles Jenkins dies at 77

Jon Howard
December 13, 2017

"You don't say no to North Korea".

Charles Jenkins, a U.S. army deserter to North Korea who married a Japanese abductee and lived in Japan after their release, has died aged 77.

"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".

In 1965, while stationed with the US Army in South Korea by the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), Mr Jenkins chose to abandon his unit and defect to the North, fearing he would be killed in patrols or sent to fight in the Vietnam War.

It was a decision he would come to regret.

Charles Jenkins, 77, lived in Japan where he had settled with his family after his 2004 release.

"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 nearly inevitable", he wrote in his 2008 memoir. They were forced to memorize the works of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung - earning a beating for any error. Along with three other USA defectors, he was kept for eight years and forced to memorize North Korean ideology. Mr Jenkins said that as foreign prisoners, they were treated better than ordinary North Koreans and given rations, even during the starvation that swept North Korea in the 1990s. His main job was to teach English to military officers and act in propaganda films as an evil American.

In 1980, he says he was "presented" with Soga and forced to marry her, but that the two later fell in love. The couple had two daughters.

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He was repeatedly beaten.

"North Korea wants me dead", he told the paper.

"I'd like to go back to the USA, but my wife don't want to go, and I have no means to support her there", Jenkins told the Los Angeles Times in an interview during the summer, retaining his thick North Carolina accent.

Soga remained in North Korea until returning to Japan with four other abductees in 2002.

Jenkins and Soga have two daughters, Brinda and Mika.

Soga and Jenkins lived in an unheated home in Pyongyang raising their own vegetables and chickens to make up for the struggling food rationing system.

There he worked in a gift shop and wrote his memoir, The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea.

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