Published: Thu, December 14, 2017
Industry | By Dora Warner

U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea dies

U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea dies

He said he was warned that any criticism of North Korea's ruling Kim family would have led to his death.

Originally from North Carolina, Mr Jenkins was a sergeant in the US Army's 1st Cavalry Division and serving on the border with the North when he deserted in January 1965.

His plan was to seek asylum in the Russian embassy and eventually return to the U.S. in a prisoner exchange. He was only 24 years old.

In a freakish turn of events Jenkins became an unlikely film star in the country along with four other Americans who fled to the North. Instead, he became a prisoner in North Korea. "I can not think now and would like to comment when I regain my calm".

Once in Japan, Jenkins was subject to a USA court-martial in 2004 in which he said he deserted because of fear of being sent to fight in Vietnam.

Jenkins' life improved somewhat after he met Soga, who had been kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978 as part of an effort to teach Japanese language and culture to spies. Bizarrely, they also found stardom by playing Western villains in Pyongyang's propaganda movies.

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Mr Jenkins said his captors often beat him, and conducted medical procedures on him that were sometimes unnecessary or brutal, including cutting off a US Army tattoo without anaesthesia, an experience which Mr Jenkins had described as "hell".

Jenkins and the couple's two children were reunited with Soga in Indonesia two years later, as he feared being extradited back to the United States.

Jenkins played Dr Kelton, a USA warmonger whose aim was to keep the war going to benefit American arms manufacturers. "North Korea wants me dead", he told the L.A. Times.

"Well, I'll put it like this".

But those hopes were quickly dashed, he told The Los Angeles Times earlier this year, and Jenkins said in retrospect that a lot of his decisions "don't make sense now".

"I had never seen anybody so lovely", Jenkins recalled in his memoir, "She was wearing a white blouse, a white skirt, and white high-heel shoes".

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"We did this so we would never forget who we really were and where we came from", he wrote.

Jenkins died due to cardiac arrest on Monday, aged 77, in his wife's hometown of Sado island in the Niigata Prefecture where he lived from 2004 onward with Soga and their two daughters, Mika and Brinda.

He said he had planned to go to Russian Federation and turn himself in, and had not expected North Korea to keep him.

The Japanese government negotiated Soga's release in 2002 after she had served as a prisoner for years. Pyongyang then allowed Mr Jenkins to leave two years later, along with their daughters. He was demoted to private, stripped of back pay and benefits and given a 30-day jail sentence along with a dishonourable discharge.

Even while living in freedom, Mr Jenkins still remained afraid of his former captors, and was constantly anxious that he or his family would eventually be assassinated. "Ain't nobody live good in North Korea".

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