TOKYO – Former United States army soldier Charles Robert Jenkins, who defected to North Korea in the 1960s and later lived in Japan, died at the age of 77 due to arrhythmia, official sources told EFE on Tuesday.
Jenkins died at 8:52 pm in a hospital in Sado, an official of the Sado municipality in the Niigata prefecture – where Jenkins had lived with his family since December 2004 – had confirmed.
His widow Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman Jenkins had met and married in North Korea, said in a statement she was “surprised and affected” by her husband’s sudden death.
A North Carolina native, Jenkins had crossed the barbed-wire fence of the Korean Demilitarized Zone in January 1965 to escape a transfer to Vietnam although he later claimed that he had planned to travel to Russia to surrender, and did not expect the North Korean regime to detain him.
During his almost 40 years in North Korea, the first 15 years of which he had said he “lived like a dog” being tortured by the North Korean military, Jenkins starred in anti-US propaganda films and worked as an English teacher, where he met Soga, one of the Japanese women who were kidnapped by North Korean spies in the 1960s to train the regime’s secret agents.
Soga was released in 2002, shortly after the then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang.
Following Koizumi’s second visit to the North Korean capital two years later, Soga returned to Japan, along with two other abducted couples, whose children, born in North Korea, were finally authorized by the regime to reunite with their parents.
The return of Jenkins and the couple’s daughters, Mika and Brinda, was delayed by the ex-soldier’s fear of being arrested by US authorities upon arriving in Japan.
Finally, in July 2004, Jenkins arrived in Japan and was tried for desertion by a US military court.
However, owing to his advanced age, ill health and the time elapsed since his desertion, Jenkins was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 30 days of confinement at the Yokosuka military prison near Tokyo.