U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea in 1965 dead at 77

Former U.S. soldier Charles Robert Jenkins waves upon arriving at a Jakarta hotel from North Korea in this

While in North Korea, Jenkins met his wife, Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman who had been kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 to teach Japanese to North Korean spies. "If there's a God in the heaven, he carried me through it", Jenkins said in a 2005 CBS interview.

After heading to Japan, Jenkins was court-martialled by the U.S. military for deserting but given only a 30-day confinement.

The broadcaster wrote that Jenkins served 25 days in a US military brig after his release from North Korea and 2004 and debriefed about his knowledge of the regime and its sensitive installations for two months. North Korea eventually acknowledged its program of kidnapping Japanese citizens.

Soga and Jenkins lived in an unheated home in Pyongyang raising their own vegetables and chickens to make up for the struggling food rationing system. Soga had earlier returned to Japan with a group of other abductees. The couple had two daughters.

After his release, Jenkins served 25 days in a USA military brig and was debriefed for two months about his knowledge of the secretive regime and its sensitive installations. "I'm sure the people feel that way about me, but if they knew all the things I know about the case, I think they'd have a different opinion of me".

South Korean pop group Girls Generation
CC BY 2.0 LG전자K-Pop Therapy? NK Soldier Defector Enjoying South Korean Music and US TV Series

In giving Jenkins a passport last month to travel to North Carolina, U.S. Embassy officials in Japan found that he was forced to accept North Korean citizenship out of fear for his safety and, as a result, hadn't relinquished his American citizenship, said Jim Frederick, the Time magazine writer who is helping Jenkins with his autobiography. However, it was not until years later, at age 24, after his second posting to South Korea, that he made the fateful decision that changed his life. Instead, he became a prisoner in North Korea.

Jenkins and his family moved to Sado, Japan, where he worked at a souvenir shop while also taking pictures with tourists.

"He's a guy who made a grievous mistake", Frederick said.

"It's very hard to express, to put into words, how I feel", he said. On Monday, he collapsed outside his house on Sado island, northern Japan, local media reported.

Jenkins said he regrets defecting from the United States where he is still considered a traitor by some.

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