US army deserter Charles Jenkins, who spent nearly four decades in communist North Korea, finally saw freedom yesterday as he left a US base with his Japanese wife for a new home on a small island north of Tokyo.
The 64-year-old defector, whose case has drawn widespread sympathy in Japan, was allowed to leave US Army Camp Zama outside Tokyo before finishing formalities for his discharge after he served a lenient 30-day sentence for desertion.
Sitting in the back seat next to his wife Hitomi Soga, whom he met in North Korea, Jenkins left the army base in a van driven by a white-gloved chauffeur bound for Soga's home island of Sado.
The island, 300km from Tokyo, readied for the family's arrival by putting up a welcome sign listing the names of Jenkins and the couple's two North Korean-born daughters in Japanese and Korean characters.
"It is very good that all four of the family are now coming. My heart is going pit-a-pat," a joyful relative of Soga told a television network.
Jenkins, who joined the army at age 15, testified at his court martial last month that he wandered into North Korea in 1965 after downing 10 beers upon hearing his unit would be shipped to Vietnam.The GI said he naively believed he would be handed to the Soviet Union and then return to his native North Carolina.
Instead Jenkins wound up teaching English in his southern drawl to North Korean cadets and playing an evil American in propaganda films.
Soga was kidnapped from Sado island at age 19 by North Korean agents who wanted to use her to train spies in Japanese language and culture. She came to Jenkins in 1980 to learn English and they married 38 days later.