USA soldier who defected to North Korea in 1965 dead at 77

The 24-year-old U.S. Army sergeant stationed in South Korea at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the border area with the North, crossed the line holding a rifle with a white T-shirt wrapped around it and surrendered to North Korean guards. Two years after her release, Pyongyang allowed Jenkins to walk free along with their daughters.

Charles Jenkins was found collapsed outside his home in Sado, in the north of the country, on Monday and rushed to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. "I never had drunk so much alcohol", he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

In 1965, while stationed with the US Army in South Korea by the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), Mr Jenkins chose to abandon his unit and defect to the North, fearing he would be killed in patrols or sent to fight in the Vietnam War.

Charles Jenkins hoped that once in North Korea, he could seek asylum with the Soviet Embassy, and eventually return to the United States in a prisoner swap.

"I know I was not thinking clearly at the time and a lot of my decisions don't make sense now, but at the time they had a logic to them that made my actions seem nearly inevitable", Mr Jenkins wrote in his 2008 memoirs, "The Reluctant Communist: My desertion, court-martial and 40-year imprisonment in North Korea". Two weeks later they were forced to marry but came to love each other.

After being sentenced to 30 days for desertion, Jenkins was released and joined his family on Sado island, Soga's hometown.

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He said later he was scared of being sent to Vietnam and thought North Korea would send him home.

"In North Korea, I lived a dog's life", he told the Los Angeles Times in August, his final interview.

In 2002, North Korea admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese civilians but the government in Tokyo believes at least 17 were taken.

There are strong suspicions in Japan that dozens of other citizens were also snatched by the North. He was the only US Army defector to tell about life in North Korea.

In November 2004, a US court-martial found Jenkins guilty of desertion and sentenced him to 30 days in prison. "I'd like to go back to the USA, but my wife don't want to go, and I have no means to support her there", he said.

  • Sonia Alvarado