This is the story of a small group of soldiers from the 101st airborne division’s fabled 502nd Infantry Regiment—a unit known as “the Black Heart Brigade.” Deployed in late 2005 to Iraq’s so-called Triangle of Death, a veritable meat grinder just south of Baghdad, the Black Hearts found themselves in arguably the country’s most dangerous location at its most dangerous time.
Hit by near-daily mortars, gunfire, and roadside bomb attacks, suffering from a particularly heavy death toll, and enduring a chronic breakdown in leadership, members of one Black Heart platoon — 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion — descended, over their year-long tour of duty, into a tailspin of poor discipline, substance abuse, and brutality.
Four 1st Platoon soldiers would perpetrate one of the most heinous war crimes U.S. forces have committed during the Iraq War — the rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl and the cold-blooded execution of her and her family. Three other 1st Platoon soldiers would be overrun at a remote outpost — one killed immediately and two taken from the scene, their mutilated corpses found days later booby-trapped with explosives.
Black Hearts is an unflinching account of the epic, tragic deployment of 1st Platoon. Drawing on hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews with Black Heart soldiers and first-hand reporting from the Triangle of Death, Black Hearts is a timeless story about men in combat and the fragility of character in the savage crucible of warfare. But it is also a timely warning of new dangers emerging in the way American soldiers are led on the battlefields of the twenty-first century.
In January of 1965, twenty-four-year-old U.S. Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins abandoned his post in South Korea, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to communist North Korean soldiers standing sentry along the world's most heavily militarized border. While both the United States and North Korea would insist that Jenkins had defected for political reasons, the truth, as we learn in this riveting autobiography, was more mundane: he was scared, drunk and homesick, and he believed his action would get him back to the States and a short jail sentence. Instead he found himself in another sort of prison, where for forty years he suffered under one of the most brutal and repressive regimes the world has known.
This fast-paced, harrowing tale, told plainly and simply by Jenkins (with journalist Jim Frederick), takes the reader behind the North Korean curtain and, episode by episode, reveals the inner workings of its isolated society. Jenkins mounted numerous failed escape attempts, was indoctrinated against his will into North Korea’s communist cadre system, and endured hunger, cold, and isolation. His loneliness was relieved in 1980 by his marriage to Hitomi Soga, a young Japanese woman whom the North Koreans had abducted as a part of a wider campaign to teach the Japanese language to North Korean spies. Jenkins’s account of their life together and as parents of two daughters, as well as their improbable journey to freedom, which began in 2002, brings this story to a close. Four decades in the world’s least known, least visited, and least understood land profoundly changed Jenkins; his memoir now offers the reader a powerful testament to the human spirit.