Serviceman who vanished to N. Korea reports to Army

Jenkins presents himself to headquarters in Japan almost 40 years later

September 12, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CAMP ZAMA, Japan - Almost 40 years after disappearing one snowy night into the mists of North Korea, Charles Robert Jenkins, his face creased and his hair thinned, presented himself yesterday here at the headquarters for the U.S. Army in Japan.

Standing erect and holding a stiff salute before the top U.S. Army military police officer in Japan, he said, "Sir, I'm Sergeant Jenkins, and I'm reporting."

Lt. Col. Paul Nigara, the provost marshal, replied, "You are now under the control of the U.S. Army."

Within minutes, Jenkins had shed his double-breasted gray suit for a new olive-green uniform with three gold stripes on his shoulder and a name tag reading "Jenkins." The short-sleeve shirt bared a crossed-rifles tattoo on his arm; the "U.S." once above it had been removed during his stay in North Korea.

The exchange ended what a member of Jenkins' family in North Carolina described yesterday as "the longest patrol."

On Jan. 6, 1965, Jenkins, in his ninth year in the Army, was leading a patrol along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea when he told his unit he was going ahead to investigate a noise.

The next concrete sign of him came a few weeks later, when his voice crackled over North Korean loudspeakers, cursing his commanding officer by name. More appearances followed: playing the role of an evil American in a propaganda movie; leading anti-imperialist rallies in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital; and posing for a magazine cover.

For those and other actions, Jenkins, 64, faces a court-martial this fall on charges of desertion, aiding the enemy, two counts of encouraging disloyalty and two counts of soliciting other soldiers to desert. His defenders say that in North Korea there is no such thing as free will and that he cannot be held responsible for his actions there.

A plea bargain may avert a trial. Jenkins is believed to have information about the fate of U.S. defectors and prisoners of war.

Japan is pressing for leniency, because his wife, Hitomi Soga, is one of the dozen Japanese citizens North Korea abducted in the 1970s and '80s to teach Japanese to its spies. Soga and four others who had been kidnapped were allowed to return to Japan in 2002, but her husband and their two daughters stayed in North Korea. Japanese officials say he was worried about being handed over to the U.S. military.

Yesterday the couple was accompanied by their daughters - Mika, 21, and Brinda, 19. Jenkins "is not under arrest; he is under charges," Col. John M. Dykstra, an Army lawyer, said yesterday. "He has been under charges since 1965."

Military personnel interviewed at Zama expressed a negative opinion of Jenkins. "He went over there voluntarily; the Japanese were kidnapped off the beaches," said David H. James, 33, a Navy technician. "He has to face the music."

Dennis Staggs, 40, a petty officer, said: "There are a lot of guys who don't want to be in Iraq, either. He did what he did 40 years ago, and there should be consequences for it."

Jenkins has never publicly explained what happened. A nephew, James Hyman, says on his Web site, www.charlesrobertjenkins.org, that he might have been kidnapped.

Speaking by telephone from North Carolina, Pat Harrell, Jenkins' sister, said: "I stand behind him 100 percent. I just want him to live in peace with his family."

Delighted to be able to give "positive" news to Pattie Casper, their 90-year-old mother, Harrell said: "I don't know many people who walk into North Korea and walk out. That's God."

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