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Fear Motivated Soldier to Defect

Charles Jenkins had been a good soldier for nine years. He had a Good Conduct Award and had been promoted to sergeant. But on January 5, 1965, after 10 days of planning and ten beers, he tied a white T-shirt to his rifle and defected to the North Koreans. He disappeared in that dark country for nearly 40 years, until 2004, when he was able to leave North Korea to seek medical treatment in Japan. In September he turned himself in to U. S. military authorities. At his court martial, the frail, tearful 64-year-old soldier pleaded guilty to desertion. He told the judge, "Ma’am, I am in fact guilty."

Why did he walk away from his unit and his country? He said he fled because he was afraid he’d be transferred to dangerous daytime patrols in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, or worse, Vietnam. Jenkins wept as he described his depression, fears of death, and heavy drinking leading up to his desertion. He thought he’d be returned home, but instead he suffered under harsh conditions all his life. "I knew 100 percent what I was doing, but I did not know the consequences," said Jenkins. It was 20 years before anyone in America even knew he was alive.

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