Charles Robert Jenkins

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Charles Robert Jenkins
Jenkins in Niigata, Japan in 2007
Born(1940-02-18)February 18, 1940
Rich Square, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedDecember 11, 2017(2017-12-11) (aged 77)
Sado, Niigata, Japan
Service/branch U.S. Army
Years of service1955–1965 (deserted), 2004
RankPrivate, E-1 (demoted from Sergeant)

Charles Robert Jenkins (February 18, 1940 – December 11, 2017)[2] was a United States Army soldier who lived in North Korea from 1965 to 2004 after deserting his unit and crossing the Korean Demilitarized Zone.[3][4]

Military service and desertion[edit]

Jenkins was born in Rich Square, North Carolina. He joined the Army National Guard in 1955, aged 15, 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 West Germany from 1962 to 1964, and in South Korea again.[5]

In South Korea, Jenkins was assigned to night patrols.[citation needed] He subsequently crossed into North Korea and surrendered to forces there, in the hope of being sent to the Soviet Union and then, through prisoner exchange, eventually returned to the United States.[citation needed] 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 denied); however, the original letters are reportedly lost. His relatives maintained throughout his absence that he was abducted.[3]

Life in North Korea[edit]

Information about Jenkins' status was unavailable outside North Korea for many years. Jenkins said he almost immediately regretted his desertion. He said that for seven years, until 1972, 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, where they were made to study the Juche philosophy of Kim Il-sung daily. They were forced to memorize large passages of Kim's writings in Korean, and beaten frequently by their guards.[5]

He said 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.[4][6]

In 1980, 40-year-old Jenkins was introduced to 21-year-old Hitomi Soga, a 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.[3][4][7][8]

Confirmation and return[edit]

Jenkins in September 2004, getting a haircut to conform to US Army grooming regulations

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.[3]

After assurances of protection from the Japanese government, he traveled with his daughters to Japan by way of Indonesia for medical treatment, arriving in Japan in July 2004. Japan formally requested a pardon for Jenkins,[9] 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.[3]

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.[3] He found work as a greeter at a shop in Japan.[6]

There were three other U.S. 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.[4] 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.[10]

On July 15, 2008, Jenkins obtained permanent residency status in Japan, a month after he applied for the status.[11] Jenkins commented that he wanted to stay in Japan for the rest of his life, and would also like to obtain Japanese citizenship.[12] He died at age 77 on December 11, 2017.[2]


Jenkins published a book in Japanese in October 2005, titled To Tell the Truth (Japanese: 告白; Romaji: kokuhaku; ISBN 978-4047915107), 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 978-8981102340)[13]

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.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Johnston, Eric (December 12, 2017). "Charles Jenkins, husband of Japanese ex-abductee to North Korea Hitomi Soga, dies at 77". The Japan Times Online. Archived from the original on December 12, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Deserter Recalls N. Korean Hell". CBS News.
  4. ^ a b c d Kirby, Michael Donald; Biserko, Sonja; Darusman, Marzuki (February 7, 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. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ a b "Asia Times Online". June 5, 2004. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  6. ^ a b John M. Glionna (July 16, 2009). "Second life of GI who deserted to North Korea". Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  7. ^ Seales, Rebecca (December 14, 2017). "US defector's extraordinary N Korea love story". Retrieved July 17, 2019 – via
  8. ^ "American who defected to North Korea dies". December 12, 2017. Retrieved July 17, 2019 – via
  9. ^ "Japan asks U.S. to pardon abductee's American husband". The Japan Times Online. May 16, 2004. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ "Jenkins gets permanent residency". The Japan Times. July 16, 2008. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  12. ^ 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 (in Japanese).
  13. ^ Card, James (November–December 2006), "Escape from Pyongyang", Foreign Policy, retrieved March 15, 2008[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Charles Robert Jenkins with Jim Frederick: The Reluctant Communist", New titles, University of California Press, retrieved March 15, 2008
  15. ^ Schoenfeld, Gabriel (March 13, 2008), "Bookshelf: To Hell and Back", The Wall Street Journal, p. D9, retrieved March 15, 2008
  • 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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