Charles Robert Jenkins

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Charles Robert Jenkins
Charles Jenkins in Niigata, Japan, 2007
Born (1940-02-18) February 18, 1940 (age 77)
Rich Square, North Carolina, U.S.
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1955—1965 (Deserted); 2004
Rank Private E-1

Charles Robert Jenkins (born February 18, 1940) is a former United States Army soldier who lived in North Korea from 1965 to 2004 after deserting from his unit and crossing the Korean Demilitarized Zone.[1][2]

Military service and desertion[edit]

Jenkins was born in Rich Square, North Carolina. He joined the National Guard in 1955, aged 15, well below the minimum enlistment age. He joined the regular army in 1958 and was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. He served in South Korea from 1960 to 1961, in Europe from 1962 to 1964, and in South Korea again.[3]

In South Korea, Jenkins was assigned to night patrols. He subsequently crossed into North Korea and surrendered to forces there, in hopes of being sent to the Soviet Union and then, through prisoner exchange, eventually returned to the United States. Shortly thereafter, North Korean propaganda declared that a U.S. sergeant had defected, and broadcast statements allegedly made by the defector, reportedly in stilted English. The U.S. Army claimed Jenkins wrote four letters stating his intention to defect (an allegation Jenkins denies); however, the original letters are reportedly lost. His relatives maintained throughout his absence that he was abducted.[1]

Life in North Korea[edit]

Information about Jenkins' status was unavailable outside North Korea for many years. Jenkins says he almost immediately regretted his desertion. He says that he and three other U.S. servicemen, Larry Abshier, Jerry Parrish and James Dresnok, were quarantined in a one-room house with no running water for seven years until 1972, where they were made to study the Juche philosophy of Kim Il-sung daily. They were forced to memorize large passages of Kim's in Korean, and beaten frequently by their guards.[3]

He says that at one point in 1966, he found his way to the Soviet embassy in Pyongyang and requested asylum, which was denied. Eventually, Jenkins was placed in separate housing and began teaching English at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies.[2][4]

In 1980, Jenkins was introduced to Hitomi Soga, a 21-year-old Japanese nursing student who had been abducted by North Korean agents in 1978, along with her mother, during a search for Japanese citizens who could train future spies in Japanese language and culture. Soga's mother was never heard from again, and Soga was "given to" Jenkins. Thirty-eight days after meeting, they were married. They had two daughters, Roberta Mika Jenkins (born 1983) and Brinda Carol Jenkins (born 1985). In 1982, Jenkins appeared in the North Korean film Unsung Heroes, which provided the first evidence to the Western world that he was alive. The U.S. government did not publicly reveal this information until 1996.[1][2]

Confirmation and return[edit]

Jenkins drew international interest again in 2002, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il confirmed that North Korea had abducted Japanese citizens. In an effort at détente, surviving abductees were allowed to travel to Japan, including Jenkins' wife. The visit was intended to last for a week, but the Japanese government chose not to return them on schedule and instead negotiated for their families to join them in Japan. Most of the families did ultimately travel to Japan, but Jenkins and his daughters stayed behind out of fear that the North Korean government was testing his loyalty.[1]

After assurances of protection from the Japanese government, he travelled with his daughters to Japan by way of Indonesia for medical treatment, arriving in Japan on July 18, 2004. Japan formally requested a pardon for Jenkins,[5] which the U.S. declined to grant. After expressing a desire to put his conscience at rest, Jenkins reported on September 11, 2004 to Camp Zama in Japan. He reported in respectful military form, saluting the receiving military police officer.

On November 3, Jenkins pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and aiding the enemy, but denied making disloyal or seditious statements – the latter charges were dropped. He was sentenced to 30 days' confinement, received a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and benefits and was reduced in rank to E-1 private (the lowest rank in the US Army). He was released six days early, on November 27, 2004, for good behavior.[1]

Jenkins and his family settled on Sado Island in Japan, which is Soga's home. On June 14, 2005, Jenkins, his wife, and two daughters traveled to the United States to visit his 91-year-old mother in North Carolina, returning later in the month.[1] He found work as a greeter in a shop.[4]

There were three other American deserters who remained in North Korea as well: James Joseph Dresnok (who was interviewed for a 2006 British documentary Crossing the Line), Private Larry Allen Abshier, and Specialist Jerry Wayne Parrish. The former two defected in 1962, while the latter defected in 1963.[2] Dresnok continued to live in North Korea until his death in 2016. According to North Korean official reports, Abshier and Parrish died of natural causes while living in that country.[6]

On July 15, 2008, Jenkins obtained permanent residency status in Japan, just half a month after he applied for the status.[7] Jenkins commented that he wanted to stay in Japan for the rest of his life, and would also like to obtain Japanese citizenship.[8]

Military awards[edit]

Charles Jenkins at the time of his court martial

Although dishonorably discharged from military service (meaning that Jenkins is ineligible to display U.S. military awards, request replacements from the Army, or purchase them on his own), Jenkins' years of status as a deserter technically qualified him for several automatic military decorations which he displayed at the time of his court martial.

During his active duty service in the 1960s, Jenkins was presented one award of the Good Conduct Medal, this being the only award he was ever formally presented by the military. During his years as a deserter, however, Jenkins was "carried on the rolls" of the U.S. Army in a desertion status meaning that he was not discharged but classified as an active duty soldier under "Time Lost" due to his AWOL status.

In 2004, when Jenkins surrendered himself as a deserter, the U.S. Army placed him back on the active duty rolls as a "deserter returned to military control". He was credited with 14,494 days' time lost as a deserter and, by default, became eligible for all automatic service medals which had been created during his long period of absence. This included all automatic awards created for soldiers serving in Korea as well as active duty awards for service after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

At his court martial in November 2004, Jenkins appeared wearing the following awards on his Army uniform.

Jenkins further displayed the North Carolina Service Ribbon to denote his status as a Guardsman transferred to the Regular Army during his original tour in the 1950s and 60s. His one authorized Army badge is the Marksmanship Badge with Rifle bar.


Jenkins published a book in Japanese in October 2005, titled To Tell the Truth (Japanese: 告白; Romaji: kokuhaku; ISBN 4-04-791510-6), about his experiences in North Korea. A Korean-language edition was also released in June 2006 by Mulpure Publishing of South Korea. (Korean: 고백, gobaek, ISBN 89-8110-234-1)[9]

An English-language version, titled The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, co-authored with journalist Jim Frederick (ISBN 978-0520253339), was published by the University of California Press on March 1, 2008.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Deserter Recalls N. Korean Hell". CBS News. 
  2. ^ a b c d Kirby, Michael Donald; Biserko, Sonja; Darusman, Marzuki (7 February 2014). "Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - A/HRC/25/CRP.1". United Nations Human Rights Council: 299 (Paragraph 941). Archived from the original on February 27, 2014. In the DPRK, Ms Soga Hitomi was married to Mr Charles Jenkins, one of the five US Army deserters who crossed over to the DPRK from their posts in the ROK voluntarily after the Korean War. Mr Jenkins - who deserted his post in the ROK in 1965 – reports having lived in close proximity to the three US nationals who crossed over to the DPRK before him, Mr Larry Allen Abshier (1962), Mr James Joseph Dresnock (1962) and Mr Jerry Wayne Parrish (1963). According to Mr Jenkins, the four were closely monitored and managed with their freedom of movement seriously constrained. The four unsuccessfully attempted to escape in 1966 by seeking asylum in the Russian Embassy, after which they were convinced there was no chance they could leave the DPRK. They had crossed voluntarily, but found themselves trapped in captivity. Mr Jenkins and the couple’s two daughters were able to reunite with Ms Soga in Japan in 2004. 
  3. ^ a b Jun 5, 2004 (2004-06-05). "Asia Times Online - The trusted news source for information on Japan". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  4. ^ a b John M. Glionna (2009-07-16). "Second life of GI who deserted to North Korea". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  5. ^ ""Japan asks U.S. to pardon abductee's American husband", The Japan Times Online, May 16, 2004 (accessed April 18, 2010)". 2004-05-16. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  6. ^ "An American in North Korea", 60 Minutes, CBS Television. Produced by Robert G. Anderson and Casey Morgan. Reported by Bob Simon. First broadcast on January 28, 2007.
  7. ^ "Jenkins gets permanent residency". The Japan Times. 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  8. ^ ジェンキンスさんに永住許可「死ぬまでここにいたい」. Yomiuri Shimbun Internet Japanese edition, July 15, 2008. Retrieved on July 16, 2008 (Japanese).
  9. ^ Card, James (November–December 2006), "Escape from Pyongyang", Foreign Policy, retrieved 2008-03-15 
  10. ^ "Charles Robert Jenkins with Jim Frederick: The Reluctant Communist", New titles, University of California Press, retrieved 2008-03-15 
  11. ^ Schoenfeld, Gabriel (2008-03-13), "Bookshelf: To Hell and Back", The Wall Street Journal, p. D9, retrieved 2008-03-15 
  • Talmadge, Eric "Deserter Adjusting to Life on Japan Island". Associated Press. January 31, 2005.
  • "U.S. Army Deserter to Seek U.S. Passport". Associated Press. February 28, 2005.

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