50 Years Ago Today, North Korea Captured the USS Pueblo. She is Still Held Captive.
50 years ago, the USS Pueblo and its crew were captured by Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather. The communist regime of North Korea captured the crew. The incident pushed the Cold War into a new state of tension. Half-a-century later, the ship is still being held in North Korea, a stark reminder of the decades old struggle between the United States and a country still intent on pushing American buttons.
The USS Pueblo is the only commissioned U.S. navy ship still officially listed as “captive.” The ship itself is a point of pride for a nation that likes to gloat about its military successes. It is also a museum. The Pueblo now sits on the Potong River in Pyongyang.
“Its existence has been documented by award-winning photojournalist, Mark Edward Harris,” the Daily Mail writes, “who has traveled to the Korean peninsula multiple times to capture the delicate balancing act between democratic South Korea and its authoritarian neighbor to the north.”
The Korean War ended in 1953. The tensions, though, have hardly eased off. The Pueblo is testament to that history, and the North Koreans contend that the ship was engaged in spying activities when it was captured.
“The USS Pueblo had been built as an Army supply freighter in 1944,” The Mail notes, “and transferred to the Navy in 1966 where it was commissioned as an intelligence gathering ship a year later. The North Koreans have preserved it but it remains a commissioned Navy vessel.”
“Crew members of the Pueblo were photographed by North Korea for propaganda purposes – and appeared with their middle fingers extended, telling their captors it was a Hawaiian greeting. When they realized they were being mocked, the North Koreans imposed harsh captivity conditions.”
There were many reasons for the Pueblo to have been operating in Korean waters. There was Soviet submarine activity, and the obvious continuing tensions with Korea itself.
In 1968, Kim Il-Sung was in control. After the capture, President Lyndon Johnson tried diplomacy to secure the release of the ship and its crew. When negotiations broke down, he was asked by members of Congress resort to nuclear war.
After holding the sailors for a year, North Korea returned the crew. They walked the Bridge of No Return on December 23, 1968.
“The entire crew were photographed as a group at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego after their return. They had been flown to the U.S. for health checks after months of ill-treatment in North Korea.”
Part of the mystery of the Pueblo concerns the timing of an assassination attempt on South Korean President Park Chung-hee the day before the ship was captured.
“Mark Edward Harris photographed the surviving crew members of the Pueblo, and the widow of the captain. They are: Top row, left to right: Rose Bucher, widow of Captain Lloyd Bucher; Sergeant Robert Hammond, U.S. Marine Corps; Fireman Stephen Woelk; Ensign Timothy Harris; Petty Officer 1st Class Policarpo Polla ‘PP’ Garcia; Petty Officer 1st Norbert Klepac.”
“Second row from top, left to right: Petty Officer 2nd Donald McClarren; Petty Officer 3rd Willie Bussell; Petty Officer 3rd Paul Brusnahan; Seaman Stephen Ellis; Seaman Edward Russell; Petty Officer 3rd Seaman, Charles H. Crandell.”
“Third row from top, left to right: Seaman Robert Hill; Petty Officer 2nd Ronald Berens; Seaman Earl Phares; Petty Officer 1st Donald Peppard; Fireman Thomas Massie, Petty Officer 3rd Ralph Reed.”
“Fourth row from top, left to right: Petty Officer 3rd Bradley Crowe; Petty Officer 3rd Darrell Wright; Petty Officer 1st Frank Ginther; Petty Officer 1st Michael Barrett; Petty Officer 1st Don E. Bailey; Lieutenant (junior grade) F. Carl Schumacher.”
“Fifth row from top, left to right: Petty Officer 3rd John Grant; Sgt Robert Chicca, U.S.Marine Corps; Petty Officer 3rd Ralph McClintock;Lt Stephen Harris LT; Lt Edward Murphy LT; Petty Officer 3rd Alvin Plucker.”
“Bottom row: Oceanographer Dunnie ‘Friar’ Tuck; Chief Petty Officer James Kell; Fireman Peter Bandera; Fireman Norman Spear; Oceanographer Harry Iredale; Seaman Richard Rogola.”