TOKYO – A U.S. soldier who deserted his Army unit 40 years ago and fled to North Korea (search) left his home in northern Japan on Monday for his first visit to the United States since he turned himself in late last year.
Charles Jenkins (search), his Japanese wife and their two daughters were scheduled to fly to Washington on Tuesday after spending a night in Tokyo. He has said he has no plans to move to the United States, but has repeatedly said he wants to see his 91-year-old mother, who lives in a nursing home in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.
He was expected to stay in the United States for about a week. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued him a passport last month.
Jenkins, 65, served 25 days in a U.S. military jail in Japan last year after a court-martial. He came to Japan in July to be with his wife, Hitomi Soga, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978 but allowed to return home in 2002.
The couple, who met in North Korea, live with their daughters in Soga's hometown of Mano, on the tiny island of Sado, off the northwestern coast of Japan's main island of Honshu (search).
Jenkins, a native of Rich Square, N.C., deserted his unit in South Korea along the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (search) that divides the two Koreas in 1965. He said he had been trying to avoid serving in Vietnam.
While in the North, he was forced to teach English to military cadets and was used as a propaganda tool, playing a malevolent American in at least one film.
Jenkins' plight became a national issue in Japan because Soga was one of at least a dozen Japanese kidnapped and taken to the North to serve as teachers for its spies. Soga was bound in a black bag, shoved onto a speedboat and taken to the Stalinist nation when she was only 19.
Her mother, who also disappeared the night she was kidnapped, has never been found.
After a flurry of diplomatic negotiations spearheaded by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, North Korea allowed her and four other abductees to come home two years ago, but Jenkins and their daughters Mika, now 21, and Brinda, 19, stayed in North Korea.
After a personal appeal by Koizumi during a summit in Pyongyang, Jenkins and his daughters finally came to Japan in July, and he surrendered to U.S. military authorities. He was released in November.
Since then, Jenkins has said he is at work on an autobiography and wants to find a regular job. He has few skills, having spent most of his life in the North. Soga works in the Mano town hall.