He called his desertion a mistake that led him to spend most of his life captive in the isolated Communist state.
Charles Jenkins, a former US army deserter to North Korea who became captive there for decades, has died aged 77.
He passed away in Japan, where he lived with his wife Hitomi Soga, also a former prisoner of the reclusive state.
Jenkins deserted to Pyongyang in 1965 when stationed in South Korea with the US army.
At an emotional court martial in Japan in 2004, he explained he deserted to escape the Vietnam war.
"It was Christmas time, it was also cold and dark. I started to drink alcohol. I never had drunk so much alcohol," he said, choking back sobs.
He took his men on patrol and told them to wait while he checked the road below. He then walked towards North Korea, holding a rifle with a white t-shirt tied around it.
He said he planned to go to Russia and turn himself in, but had not expected North Korea to keep him - for 39 years.
There he taught English to soldiers and portrayed an evil US spy in a propaganda film.
He also met Soga, a Japanese woman 20 years his junior who had been kidnapped by North Korea to help train spies.
Soga was allowed to return to Japan in 2002 and Jenkins followed with their two North Korean-born daughters in 2004.