TOKYO – Charles Jenkins, a U.S. Army deserter to North Korea who married a Japanese abductee and lived in Japan after their release, has died. He was 77.
Jenkins was found collapsed outside his home in Sado in northern Japan on Monday and was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead, a group representing families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea said Tuesday.
Public broadcaster NHK said he died of heart failure.
Jenkins, of Rich Square, North Carolina, disappeared in January 1965 while on patrol along the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea. He later called his desertion a mistake that led to decades of deprivation and hardship in the communist country.
In North Korea, Jenkins met his wife Hitomi Soga, who had been kidnapped from Japan in 1978, and the couple had two daughters, Mika and Blinda. His wife was allowed to visit Japan in 2002 and stayed. Jenkins and their daughters followed in 2004.
Once in Japan, Jenkins was subject to a U.S. court-martial in 2004 in which he said he deserted because of fear of being sent to fight in Vietnam. He pleaded guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy and was dishonourably discharged and sentenced to 25 days in a U.S. military jail in Japan.
Jenkins and his family lived in Soga’s hometown of Sado, where he was a popular worker at a local souvenir shop and could often be seen posing for photos with tourists.
Soga is one of at least 13 Japanese citizens who Tokyo says were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to teach Japanese culture and language to its spies. North Korea has acknowledged the abductions and allowed Soga and four others to visit Japan in 2002, where they stayed.
Jenkins, in his 2005 autobiography “To Tell the Truth” and at conferences on North Korean human rights, revealed that he had seen other American deserters living with women abducted from elsewhere including Thailand and Romania.
After settling in Japan, he visited North Carolina to see his mother and sister. But he said he had no plans to move back to the U.S.
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