One night in early January 1965, U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins, who was stationed in South Korea along the Demilitarized Zone, got drunk and decided he wanted out. The 24-year-old North Carolina native walked across the border and deserted to North Korea with the notion of making his way to the Soviet Union and eventually, he hoped, back to the U.S. to receive punishment.
Instead, Jenkins, who passed away Monday at age 77 on Sado Island, spent nearly 40 years in North Korea, a prisoner forced to memorize the works of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and then to work as an English teacher, translator and even propaganda film actor.
Jenkins might have died in North Korea and been forgotten by the outside world had it not been for his meeting Hitomi Soga in 1980. Soga, a nursing student at the time, and her mother were kidnapped by North Korean agents from their homes on Sado Island in 1978 as part of a program to train agents from the country in Japanese language and culture. Soga's mother disappeared and was never heard from again, but Hitomi and Jenkins married. They had two daughters, Mika, born in 1983, and Brinda, born in 1985.