USS Pueblo Captured - January 23, 1968

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by RightHand, Jan 23, 2006.

  1. RightHand

    RightHand Been There, Done That RIP 4/15/21 Moderator Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    On January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo a Navy intelligence vessel, is engaged in a routine surveillance of the North Korean coast when it is intercepted by North Korean patrol boats. According to U.S. reports, the Pueblo was in international waters almost 16 miles from shore, but the North Koreans turned their guns on the lightly armed vessel and demanded its surrender. The Americans attempted to escape, and the North Koreans opened fire, wounding the commander, Lloyd Bucher, and two others. With capture inevitable, the Americans stalled for time, destroying the classified information aboard while taking further fire. Several more crew members were wounded, including Duane Hodges, who later died from his injuries.

    Finally, the Pueblo was boarded and taken to Wonson. There, the 83-man crew was bound and blindfolded and transported to Pyongyang, where they were charged with spying within North Korea's 12-mile territorial limit and imprisoned. It was the biggest crisis in two years of increased tension and minor skirmishes between the United States and North Korea.

    The United States maintained that the Pueblo had been in international waters and demanded the release of the captive sailors. With the Tet Offensive raging 2,000 miles to the south in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson ordered no direct retaliation, but the United States began a military buildup in the area. North Korean authorities, meanwhile, coerced a confession and apology out of Pueblo commander Bucher, in which he stated, "I will never again be a party to any disgraceful act of aggression of this type." The rest of the crew also signed a confession under threat of torture.

    The prisoners were then taken to a second compound in the countryside near Pyongyang, where they were forced to study propaganda materials and beaten for straying from the compound's strict rules. In August, the North Koreans staged a phony news conference in which the prisoners were to praise their humane treatment, but the Americans thwarted the Koreans by inserting innuendoes and sarcastic language into their statements. Some prisoners also rebelled in photo shoots by casually sticking out their middle finger; a gesture that their captors didn't understand. Later, the North Koreans caught on and beat the Americans for a week.

    On December 23, 1968, exactly 11 months after the Pueblo's capture, U.S. and North Korean negotiators reached a settlement to resolve the crisis. Under the settlement's terms, the United States admitted the ship's intrusion into North Korean territory, apologized for the action, and pledged to cease any future such action. That day, the surviving 82 crewmen walked one by one across the "Bridge of No Return" at Panmunjon to freedom in South Korea. They were hailed as heroes and returned home to the United States in time for Christmas.

    Incidents between North Korea and the United States continued in 1969, and in April 1969 a North Korean MiG fighter shot down a U.S. Navy intelligence aircraft, killing all 31 men aboard. In 1970, quiet returned to the demilitarized zone.

    A further article written before Cmdr. Bucher's 2004 death includes the following:
    In the Pueblo incident, Bucher said, it became a case "of the U.S. getting down on its knees and kissing the Communist boots."

    The text of the statement signed by Maj. Gen. Gilbert H. Woodward, chief American negotiator at 27 U.S.-North Korean sessions held at Panmunjom, confirms Bucher’s recollection. The U.S. "shoulders full responsibility and solemnly apologizes for the grave acts committed by the U.S. ship against" North Korea, it reads. The U.S. government, it said, "gives firm assurance that no U.S. ship will intrude again in the future into the territorial waters."

    The U.S. statement went on to acknowledge the "validity of the confessions" of the Pueblo crew and of evidence offered by North Korea "that the ship, which was seized by the self-defense measures of the naval force" of North Korea "had illegally intruded into the territorial waters" of North Korea. The United States also "earnestly requests," said the statement, that North Korea "deal leniently with the former crew members of the U.S.S. Pueblo . . . taking into consideration the fact that these crew members have confessed honestly to their crimes."

    Prior to signing this trumped-up statement, Woodward read remarks of his own completely disavowing it. "The paper which I am going to sign was prepared by the North Koreans and is at variance with the above position," said Woodward, "but my signature will not and cannot alter the facts. I will sign the document to free the crew and only to free the crew."

    "And what the North Koreans did," recalled Bucher, "was simply snip off the disavowal and use the U.S. apology for propaganda purposes."

    Explaining the U.S. "apology" at the time, then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, "Apparently the North Koreans believe there is propaganda value even in a worthless document which Gen. Woodward publicly labeled false before he signed it."

    In decrying the Johnson Administration’s failure to arm the Pueblo with anything more than two .50-caliber machine guns or equip it with the proper machinery for destroying classified material in the event of capture ("I actually had to go out and buy my own paper incinerator!"), Bucher also recalled the sadistic physical and psychological torture he and his crew experienced during their captivity.

    Interrogators struck Quartermaster Charles Law nearly 250 times with a board and "by fists to the head, groin, thighs and legs." Less than two weeks before the crew was released, Radioman Lee Hayes was struck repeatedly over the head and shoulders with 5-foot boards.

    Almost immediately upon his incarceration, Bucher was ordered by his captors to sign a confession that the Pueblo had violated North Korean territorial waters. This he refused to do—even when a gun was put to his head and he was placed before a firing squad, which abruptly stopped its procedure after "Ready, aim . . ."

    "But then I did sign it when they told me they would execute my crew before my eyes from the youngest to the oldest," said Bucher. He then made a radio "confession" that was broadcast worldwide. But, to signal that he was "confessing" against his will, Bucher cleverly punned on and misused the word "paean"—a hymn of praise—in his broadcast. "I deliberately mispronounced it," he said. "I said, ‘We pee on the North Korean state, we pee on their great leader Kim Il Sung.’ The North Koreans never picked up on it."

    Similarly, when Pyongyang released a photo of smiling Pueblo crew members for American audiences, said Bucher, "[the Communists] never noticed that several of them were also making an obscene gesture with their fingers. They had never seen the ‘Hawaiian good luck sign.’"

    The Pueblo skipper also signaled his own election-year disgust with liberal Democratic politicians at home in a letter to wife Rose, telling her of his hopes that "[conservative columnist] William Buckley’s boys win in November."

    Bucher also strongly endorsed the Bush Administration for its recent decision to enhance arms sales to Taiwan. "It should be pretty standard to help our allies," he said, "because we’re never going to live in a perfect world without potential enemies somewhere."

    Lately, Bucher has begun to speak out on a cause near and dear to him: return of the Pueblo, which has never been formally decommissioned as a U.S. ship. Much as the Chinese released our 24 airmen but held our EP-3E, the North Korean released the crew of the Pueblo but kept the intelligence ship for observation and propaganda purposes. But while China is now indicating it may send our plane back (in boxes), North Korea, after three decades, is still holding the Pueblo in the harbor at Pyongyang.

    Recalling how he saw the U.S. vessel while on a trip to North Korea as a House staffer a few years ago, Rep. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) said, "The Pueblo is today a tourist attraction. They drag it around the harbor on their regular ‘anti-U.S. imperialism celebration.’"

    To its skipper, allowing the North Koreans to continue to use the Pueblo in such a manner is unconscionable—particularly at a time when the United States. has begun to send oil and other needed supplies to that economically ravaged country. "This is just another level of attack on us from a hostile regime that has never changed its ways," he said. "If we are going to aid people like this, at the very least, we should insist that they return a ship that is still on the Navy rolls and is still sovereign U.S. property."

    © Human Events, 2001
  2. Quigley_Sharps

    Quigley_Sharps The Badministrator Administrator Founding Member

    Great read RH
    I have a family history in the Korean war.
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