US Army Deserter Gets Light Sentence, Dishonorable Discharge

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - A U.S. soldier who deserted his post along the Korean demilitarized zone 39 years ago and went across to North Korea has been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army and jailed for 30 days.

Charles Jenkins' sentence by a court martial at a U.S. military base near Tokyo came after the Japanese government appealed to the U.S. for leniency.

In return, the 64-year-old North Carolina native is expected to provide information to U.S. authorities gleaned from his time in the reclusive Stalinist country.

Japan's involvement in the case arose from the fact that Jenkins, while in North Korea, married a Japanese woman who had been abducted by North Korean secret agents in 1978.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at a 2002 summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed to let the woman, Hitomi Soga, and other abducted Japanese leave.

Jenkins could not follow his wife and their two North Korean-born daughters, however, because going to Japan would put him within reach of U.S. justice.

After a reunion earlier this year with his wife in Indonesia, engineered by the Japanese government, he agreed to go to Japan. After undergoing medical treatment, he handed himself over to the U.S. military.

The family is expected to settle in Japan, where Soga's plight had won widespread public sympathy.

During his court martial, Jenkins said he had no longer wanted to be in the military and should have applied for a discharge but mistakenly didn't do so.

Instead he drank about 10 beers and crossed a minefield into North Korean territory in January 1965. He said he had thought the North Koreans would hand him over to Russia, from where he could return home.

Jenkins taught English to North Koreans and described being badly beaten when he said he wanted to stop.

It was only when he met Soga and married her in 1980 that he began to experience "happiness."

"Our mutual hate for North Korea brought us together and kept us together for 24 years," he said.

Japanese government spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda this week thanked the U.S. for its "consideration" in the Jenkins case.

See Earlier Story:
Alleged US Army Deserter Flies out of North Korea (July 9, 2004)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow