The sad Cold War era tale of Charles Robert Jenkins has come to an end:
This file photo taken on October 12, 2005 shows U.S. army deserter Charles Jenkins, who spent 40 years in North Korea, showing off his new book “To Tell the Truth,” which was published in Japanese last week, at a press conference in Tokyo. Charles Jenkins, a U.S. Army deserter who spent four decades in communist North Korea and married a Japanese woman abducted by Pyongyang, has died at the age of 77, officials said on December 12, 2017. / AFP-Yonhap
Charles Jenkins, a U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea and became a movie star there, has died in Japan, according to reports on Tuesday. He was 77.
The former U.S. sergeant died on Sado island on Monday, where he was living with his wife Hitomi Soga, also a former prisoner of North Korea.
He was among four U.S. soldiers who defected to the North in 1965 and was the only one who was released. The others reportedly died in the isolated state, including James Dresnok, who was said to have died of a stroke in 2016.
According to the BBC, Jenkins collapsed outside his home and died of heart problems in hospital. His wife said in a statement that she was “very surprised” by his death and “cannot think of anything,” according to AFP. [Korea Times]
You can read more at the link, but what is interesting about this death is that back in August 2017 Jenkins said in an interview that the North Koreans wanted him dead:
Then there was the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam — Kim Jong Un’s half-brother — in a Malaysian airport in March. Two women ambushed Kim with VX nerve agent, one of the world’s most toxic substances. To Jenkins, it was a reminder that Pyongyang’s brutality knows no bounds — and no one is immune.
“I worry about my daughters more than anything,” he said as he drove his Subaru along the coast. He has forbidden them to comply if Japanese police should attempt to pull them over while driving. Anyone could be a North Korean agent.
“North Korea give them enough money, you don’t know what they’ll do,” he said. “North Korea wants me dead.”
Jenkins’ death is probably just a coincidence, but it is kind of eerie how he died so soon after making that statement. Jenkins was a heavy smoker so heart problems from his smoking is definitely plausible.
You can read more about Jenkins’ time in North Korea from this interesting interview he gave back in 2006. You can also read his book, The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea that was actually a very good read. Despite being a deserter, I always appreciated how Jenkins took responsibility for his own actions and did not try to blame others for what happened to him.
Condolences to the friends and family of Charles Robert Jenkins.