LOS ANGELES TIMES: In 1965, Jenkins was a U.S. Army sergeant assigned to the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula, a skinny 24-year-old who was terrified of being sent to what he considered a sure death in Vietnam. One night, after guzzling 10 beers for courage, he abandoned his sense of duty and freedom as he knew it to stumble across the border into North Korea, a desperate midnight maneuver that led to four lost decades in communist captivity.
Jenkins quickly became the Pyongyang government’s most prized Cold War pawn. He starred in propaganda movies and memorized the inflated political tracts of “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, enduring a life so dreary and deprived that “most days you wished you were dead.”
Eventually, he married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman abducted in 1978 as a teenager by the North Koreans. They raised two daughters, eking out an existence on government-issued rice and the undersized vegetables they grew in their garden. Soga was released by Pyongyang in 2002 but later reconnected with Jenkins and the children she left behind. The couple’s emotional reunion, falling into each other’s arms at an Indonesian airport, elevated them to the status of unofficial Japanese royalty — their fairy-tale cross-cultural romance celebrated by an entire nation. MORE