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The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea

Charles Robert Jenkins
with Jim Frederick
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Reluctant Communist
    Book Description:

    In January of 1965, twenty-four-year-old U.S. Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins abandoned his post in South Korea, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to communist North Korean soldiers standing sentry along the world's most heavily militarized border. He believed his action would get him back to the States and a short jail sentence. Instead he found himself in another sort of prison, where for forty years he suffered under one of the most brutal and repressive regimes the world has known. This fast-paced, harrowing tale, told plainly and simply by Jenkins (with journalist Jim Frederick), takes the reader behind the North Korean curtain and reveals the inner workings of its isolated society while offering a powerful testament to the human spirit.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93428-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xxxiv)
    Jim Frederick

    My first thought, I remember clearly, was: “This can’t be happening.” Once I registered that it wasindeedhappening, my second thought was simple: “I’m toast.” It was the morning of September 2, 2004, and, as I did every morning, I was checking the major news sites that covered Japan for any new developments (this being Japan, overnight news was usually an earthquake) or features our competitors had posted since yesterday. I clicked over to theFar Eastern Economic Review(FEER) website, and there it was: “Exclusive Interview: Four Decades in North Korea. On a cold night in 1965, Sgt....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxv-xxxvi)
  5. Prelude
    (pp. 1-3)

    When Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi came to North Korea for his first, big, one-day summit with Kim Jongil on September 17, 2002, we didn’t know about it until he had already left. My wife, Hitomi, and I were watching TV that night and the announcer on the state-run news program (the only kind of news available in North Korea) said that Koizumi had been to Pyongyang for a visit, and that “repatriating Japanese who were living in North Korea” was one of their topics of discussion. The news made it sound like the two leaders talked about the fates...

  6. 1 Super Jenkins
    (pp. 4-12)

    My first memories are of World War II. One day, late in the summer I was five years old, the fire engine in our town was running up and down the main street with its lights flashing and sirens blaring. Rich Square, North Carolina, where I was born, was a small, poor town, so the main drag was only a few blocks long and had only a single stoplight. But when the engine got to the end of the street it would turn around and come back the other way, clanging and making a racket, over and over again. I...

  7. 2 In the Army, and across the DMZ
    (pp. 13-26)

    In middle of 1958, I reached the end of my three-year National Guard hitch. They asked me if I wanted to extend or re-enlist, and I said, “Hell, no. I’m joining the army.” In November I reported for two months of basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, as an infantry soldier of B Company, Nineteenth Battalion, 1st Regiment. Since I had already been in the Guard, basic training was very easy for me. I didn’t even have to do most of the drills, and I spent a lot of my time as a driver in the motor pool. Once...

  8. 3 Housemates
    (pp. 27-58)

    In the house on the border, they blindfolded me, searched me, and sat me down in a tiny room, more like an empty closet, really, about one yard by three yards, with a guard at the door. None of the eight or ten soldiers who would come in and out of the adjoining room spoke English, but I could catch the gist of some of the things they were saying just from their gestures. They were very curious about me. “Is he alone?” “Why did he come here?” And this was the biggest question as they inspected my M-14 and...

  9. 4 Cooks, Cadets, and Wives
    (pp. 59-76)

    Although none of us really wanted citizenship, our lives did get a bit better after we had it. We were never actually put into regular society, though (not that we realistically thought we would be). But, for starters, not only was our pay reinstated, but we also got a raise from five to ten won per month. Additionally, we each received our own homes, as had been promised. They were still modest places. They each had two four-mat rooms and a kitchen. Like almost all of the houses I have ever lived in, they had unreliable electricity, no hot running...

  10. Photo section
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Soga-san
    (pp. 77-101)

    Soon after Go Chung-mi left, my leaders told me that there would be another woman coming soon. But she was not a cook, and she was not even Korean, though they called her by a Korean name, Min Hae-gyun. They did not tell me she was Japanese at the time, only that she was Asian and that they wanted me to teach her English. Though they first told me about her very soon after Go Chung-mi’s departure, her actual arrival did not come until months later. And even on the day she was finally to appear, she was still very...

  12. 6 Friends and Strangers
    (pp. 102-120)

    In mid-1981, we all had to go back to teaching at the school where we had taught before. We were still English instructors, but the school had changed. Newly reopened after shutting down hastily in the wake of the Panmunjom incident in 1976, it had become a four-year military college and its name had changed to Mi Dang-hi University. Cadets still graduated as lieutenants, but the school had been enlarged to enroll one thousand to fifteen hundred students and the curriculum expanded to include more subjects. It was now named after an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter who was captured by the...

  13. 7 Domestic Life
    (pp. 121-135)

    I am well aware that we Americans and our families were a special, even privileged group in North Korea and that our tales of hardship do not compare to the truly unimaginable suffering that so many North Koreans endure every day. Perhaps millions of North Koreans have already starved to death since famines began hitting the country in the mid-1990s, and a huge percent age of the country’s citizens still live with the constant torture of not having enough food to eat or clean water to drink. In addition, many hundreds of thousands, if not more, have been worked to...

  14. 8 Hitomi’s Escape
    (pp. 136-152)

    At first, September 17, 2002, seemed like an ordinary night. Hitomi and I were at home alone together after a quiet day. Our daughters were at school, so we were just watching TV, as we did many evenings, before turning in for bed. When the news came on, the newscaster said that the day’s big event was Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang, which had just ended. His one-day summit with the Dear Leader had, of course, been a great success and brought great glory upon the North Korean nation (every newscast was never-ending propaganda). Among the many...

  15. 9 My Escape
    (pp. 153-180)

    On the morning of May 22, Mika, Brinda, and I were picked up by a high cadre from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and taken to an old country house of Kim Jong-il’s about twelve miles outside of Pyongyang. That’s where we were to meet with Prime Minister Koizumi.

    We arrived about 9:00 a.m., three hours early, and were taken into a big waiting room where there was fruit on a silver platter and lots of soft drinks on a side table. In that room, over the next few hours, four high-ranking North Koreans I had never seen before came...

  16. 10 Homecomings
    (pp. 181-192)

    A few days after my release from jail, my wife, daughters, and I departed for what I hope will be the final stop in my life of strange travels: my wife’s hometown of Mano on Sado Island.

    For many years, when we were stuck in North Korea, Hitomi and I would ease our homesickness and loneliness by telling each other stories about our homes and families for hours on end. We would describe every little detail: the shops we went to, the places we hung out at with our friends, what we used to have for dinner. But as I...

  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-193)