The bizarre and tragic life story of Charles Robert Jenkins has come to an end. Had it not been for one very foolish and unfortunate decision while he was stationed in Korea in 1965, the world would never have heard of him. CBS News reports his death in Japan:
Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins stands during a court-martial rehearsal in this Nov. 2, 2004 file photo, one day before the hearing at Camp Zama, west of Tokyo. 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. Read more at CBS News…
thumbnail courtesy of cbsnews.com
His path towards a voluntary desertion to a police state (and enemy of the U.S.) was rooted in a fear many men of his generation could understand — his fear of being sent to fight in Vietnam. He also later said he was afraid of being told to lead increasingly aggressive patrols along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where his unit was located. He gave an accounting of his decision to defect on one freezing night during a CBS interview.
His plan to avoid service in Vietnam revealed just how little Jenkins understood about the world around him. He had some vague idea that by running away to North Korea, he could end up in the Soviet Union. From there, he imagined he would be sent to the U.S. as part of a swap (as countries sometimes do in the case of captured spies, though why he imagined a military deserter would get this treatment was never clear).
It was, by his own admission, a decision made after downing 10 beers prior to his last patrol. Fortified by alcohol, he broke off from the squad of soldiers he was leading and started walking north. He was taken into custody once he reached Northern territory.
For more on his life in North Korea and eventual decision to face U.S. military justice for his desertion, go to the next page.