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N.C. Army deserter discusses four decades in North Korea in book

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TOKYO -- First he abandoned the American military and fled across one of the world's most heavily armed borders into North Korea. Then, after living for nearly 40 years in the isolated nation, he moved to Japan and surrendered to U.S. authorities.

Now U.S. Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins has committed his four-decade odyssey to paper, publishing an autobiography titled, "To Tell the Truth."

The book, which has so far only been published in Japanese by a Japanese publisher, details Jenkins' story from his youth in Rich Square, N.C., to his present life in Japan. It appeared in early October, and Jenkins says he is searching for an American publisher.

"I thought about it for a long time ... I really wanted to publish a book," Jenkins said at a news conference Wednesday. "So I decided to tell the story ... not just my story but also my wife's, my daughters'."

Jenkins has quite a story to tell.

As a 24-year-old sergeant, he abandoned his Army unit and fled to North Korea in 1965. He stayed there for 39 years, appearing in propaganda films and teaching English. He later testified that he fled the Army to avoid service in Vietnam.

In 1980, he married a Japanese citizen, Hitomi Soga, who suffered her own odyssey - she was kidnapped in 1978 by North Korean agents and taken to the communist country to train spies in Japanese language and culture.

They had two daughters and stayed in North Korea until the reclusive regime released Soga to Japanese authorities in 2002.

Jenkins stayed behind with their children until coming in 2004 to Japan, where he surrendered to American authorities. He was court-martialed and served a month in jail before moving to his wife's hometown in northwestern Japan.

In his book, Jenkins denies defecting to North Korea for ideological reasons. He said North Korean agents were never able to break him and he was never brainwashed.

"I was not a communist sympathizer, nor did I harbor any affection toward North Korea, and I did not plan to seek asylum there," he wrote.

"I knew so little of the world. I didn't understand that the country I was seeking to enter temporarily was an immense prison that defied all norms - somewhere once entered, most people never returned."

Jenkins said he plans to settle in Japan, though he enjoyed a weeklong visit to the United States - his first in four decades. He spent most of that time in Northampton County in northeastern North Carolina.

"I still love America, it's true," he said. "In the future I might visit again, there is no doubt about that, I will. But I still want to live in Japan."

Jenkins said he has made friends on the island where he lives, Sado, is trying to get a driver's license and learn Japanese so he can make friends.

In the meantime, Jenkins promised to support his wife's continuing effort to find her mother, who has been missing since they were abducted together decades ago. \<!--

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