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USS Pueblo (AGER-2) is an American ELINT and SIGINT[1] Banner-class technical research ship (Navy intelligence) which was boarded and captured by North Korean forces on 23 January 1968, in what is known as the Pueblo incident or alternatively as the Pueblo crisis or the Pueblo affair. Occurring less than a week after President Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union Address and only weeks before the Tet Offensive, it was a major incident in the Cold War.

North Korea stated that it strayed into their territorial waters, but the United States maintains that the vessel was in international waters at the time of the incident.

Pueblo, still held by North Korea today, officially remains a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy.[2] It is currently moored along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, where it is used as a museum ship. It is the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held captive.

Initial operations[edit | edit source]

File:Army Cargo Vessel FP-344.jpg

U.S. Army Cargo Vessel FP-344 (1944). Transferred to the Navy in 1966, it became USS Pueblo (AGER-2).

The ship was launched at the Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, on 16 April 1944, as United States Army Freight and Passenger (FP) FP-344. The Army later redesignated the FP vessels as Freight and Supply changing the designation to FS-344.[3] The ship, commissioned at New Orleans on 7 April 1945, served as a Coast Guard manned Army vessel used for training civilians for the Army. Her first commanding officer was LT J. R. Choate, USCGR, succeeded by LTJG Marvin B. Barker, USCGR, on 12 September 1945.[4]

It was transferred to the United States Navy in 1966 and was renamed USS Pueblo. It was named after Pueblo County, Colorado. It is the third US Navy ship to be named after the city of Pueblo or Pueblo County. Initially, it served as a light cargo ship, AKL-44, but shortly after resuming service was converted to an intelligence gathering ship, or what is colloquially known as a spy ship, and redesignated AGER-2 on 13 May 1967. AGER (Auxiliary General Environmental Research) denoted a joint Naval and National Security Agency (NSA) program.[5]

USS Pueblo incident[edit | edit source]

File:Lloyd Pete Bucher.jpg

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commanding Officer of the Pueblo.

On 5 January 1968, Pueblo left Yokosuka, Japan, in transit to Sasebo, Japan, from where she left on 11 January 1968, headed northward through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan. She left with specific orders to intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet Union naval activity in the Tsushima Strait and to gather signal and electronic intelligence from North Korea.[6]

On 20 January at 5:30 pm, a North Korean modified SO-1 class Soviet style sub chaser passed within 4000 yards (4 km) of the Pueblo, which was about 15.4 miles (24.8 km) southwest of Mayang-do at a position 39°47'N and 128°28.5'E.[1]

In the afternoon of 22 January, the two North Korean fishing trawlers Rice Paddy 1 and Rice Paddy 2 passed within 30 yards (30 m) of Pueblo. That day, a North Korean unit made an assassination attempt against the South Korean President Park Chung-hee, but the crew of Pueblo were not informed.[1]

According to the American account, the following day, 23 January, Pueblo was approached by a sub chaser and her nationality was challenged; Pueblo responded by raising the U.S. flag. The North Korean vessel then ordered her to stand down or be fired upon. Pueblo attempted to maneuver away, but was considerably slower than the sub chaser. Additionally, three torpedo boats appeared on the horizon and then joined in the chase and subsequent attack.

The attackers were soon joined by two MiG-21 fighters. A fourth torpedo boat and a second sub chaser appeared on the horizon a short time later. The ammunition on Pueblo was stored below decks, and her machine guns were wrapped in cold weather tarpaulins. The machine guns were unmanned, and no attempt was made to man them. An NSA report quotes the sailing order:

(...) Defensive armament (machine guns) should be stowed or covered in such manner so that it does not cause unusual interest by surveyed units. It should be used only in the event of a threat to survival (...)

and notes

In practice, it was discovered that, because of the temperamental adjustments of the firing mechanisms, the .50-caliber machine guns took at least ten minutes to activate. Only one crew member, with former army experience, had ever had any experience with such weapons, although members of the crew had received rudimentary instructions on the weapons immediately prior to the ship's deployment.[1]
File:USSPueblo positions.png

Reported positions of USS Pueblo.


North Korean chart showing where they claim to have captured USS Pueblo.

U.S. Navy authorities and the crew of the Pueblo insist that before the capture, Pueblo was miles outside North Korean territorial waters; the North Koreans claim the vessel was well within North Korean territory. The mission statement allowed her to approach within a nautical mile (1852 m) of that limit. North Korea, however, claims a Template:Convert/nmi sea boundary even though international standards were Template:Convert/nmi at the time.[7]

The North Korean vessels attempted to board Pueblo, but she maneuvered to prevent this for over two hours and a sub chaser opened fire with a 57 mm cannon, killing one member of the crew. The smaller vessels fired machine guns into Pueblo, which then signaled compliance and began destroying sensitive material. The volume of material on board was so great that it was impossible to destroy all of it. In his book The Pueblo Surrender – A Covert Action by the NSA, author Robert A. Liston points out that weakly armed spy ships operating alone, and dangerously close to enemy territorial waters normally carry little if any sensitive material on board, to minimize the risk of anything important falling into enemy hands.[8] The crew inside the security space on board the Pueblo had over an hour to destroy sensitive material before the ship was boarded. A NSA report quotes Lt Steve Harris, the officer in charge of PuebloTemplate:'s Naval Security Group Command detachment:

".. we had retained on board the obsolete publications and had all good intentions of getting rid of these things but had not done so at the time we had started the mission. I wanted to get the place organized eventually and we had excessive numbers of copies on board..."

and concludes

Only a small percentage of the total classified material aboard the ship was destroyed.[1]

Radio contact between the Pueblo and the Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan, had been ongoing during the incident. As a result, Seventh Fleet command was fully aware of PuebloTemplate:'s situation. Air cover was promised but never arrived. The Fifth Air Force had no aircraft on strip alert, and estimated a two to three hour delay in launching aircraft. The USS Enterprise was located 510 miles south of the Pueblo, yet its four F-4B aircraft on alert were not equipped for an air-to-surface engagement. EnterpriseTemplate:'s captain estimated that 1.5 hours were required to get the converted aircraft into the air.[1] By the time President Lyndon B. Johnson was awakened, Pueblo had been captured and any rescue attempt would have been futile.

Pueblo followed the North Korean vessels as ordered, but then stopped immediately outside North Korean waters. She was again fired upon, and a U.S. sailor, fireman Duane Hodges, was killed. The ship was boarded by men from a torpedo boat and a sub chaser. Crew members had their hands tied, were blindfolded, beaten, and prodded with bayonets. Once Pueblo was in North Korean territorial waters, she was boarded again, this time by high ranking North Korean officials.

There was dissent among government officials in the U.S. regarding how to handle the situation. Rep. Mendel Rivers suggested the President issue an ultimatum for the return of Pueblo on penalty of nuclear attack, while Senator Gale McGee said the U.S. should wait for more information and not make "spasmodic response[s] to aggravating incidents."[9] According to Horace Busby, Special Assistant to President Johnson, the President's "reaction to the hostage taking was to work very hard here to keep down any demands for retaliation or any other attacks upon North Koreans", worried that rhetoric might result in the hostages being killed.[10]

Although at the time American officials assumed that the seizure of the USS Pueblo had been directed by the Soviet Union, it has emerged in recent years[when?] that North Korea acted alone and that the incident actually harmed North Korea's relations with most of the Eastern Bloc.[11]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew was moved twice to POW camps. Some of the crew reported upon release that they were starved and regularly tortured while in North Korean custody.[12] This treatment allegedly turned worse[13] when the North Koreans realized that crewmen were secretly giving them "the finger" in staged propaganda photos.[14]

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher was psychologically tortured, such as being put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented and agreed to 'confess to his and the crew's transgression.' Bucher wrote the confession since a 'confession' by definition needed to be written by the confessor himself. They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung".[15][16] (The word "paean" sounds identical to the term pee on.)

Following an apology, a written admission by the U.S. that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the U.S. would not spy in the future, the North Korean government decided to release the 82 remaining crew members, although the written apology was preceded by a verbal statement that it was done only to secure the release.[17] On 23 December 1968, the crew was taken by buses to the DMZ border with South Korea and ordered to walk south one by one across the "Bridge of No Return". Exactly eleven months after being taken prisoner, the Captain led the long line of crewmen, followed at the end by the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Ed Murphy, the last man across the bridge. The U.S. then verbally retracted the ransom admission, apology, and assurance. Meanwhile the North Koreans blanked out the paragraph above the signature which read: "and this hereby receipts for eighty two crewmen and one dead body".[clarification needed]

Bucher and all the officers and crew subsequently appeared before a Navy Court of Inquiry. A court martial was recommended for the CO and the Officer in Charge of the Research Department, Lt Steve Harris.[18] But the Secretary of the Navy, John H. Chafee, rejected the recommendation, stating, "They have suffered enough." Commander Bucher was never found guilty of any indiscretions and continued his Navy career until retirement.[19]

In 1970, Bucher published an autobiographical account of the USS Pueblo incident entitled Bucher: My Story.[20] Bucher died in San Diego on 28 January 2004, at the age of 76. James Kell, a former sailor under his command, suggested that the injuries suffered by Bucher during his time in North Korea contributed to his death.[19]

Pueblo is still held by North Korea. In October 1999, it was towed from Wonsan on the east coast, around the Korean Peninsula, to the Nampo on the west coast. This required moving the vessel through international waters, and was undertaken just before the visit of U.S. presidential envoy James Kelly to the capital Pyongyang. The Pueblo was again relocated to Pyongyang and moored on the Taedong River at the spot that the General Sherman incident is believed to have taken place. It is next to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. It is currently the only American naval vessel held in captivity in the world. It has been used since as a museum ship.[21]

Today Pueblo remains the third-oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy, behind USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), and the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). It is widely, but incorrectly, believed to be the first American ship to have been captured since the wars in Tripoli. (On 8 December 1941, the river gunboat USS Wake was captured by Japanese forces while moored in Shanghai.[22])


Tourist attraction[edit | edit source]

Pueblo is a primary tourist attraction in Pyongyang, North Korea, having attracted over 250,000 visitors since being moved to the Taedong River.[23] Pueblo is now anchored at the spot where it is believed the General Sherman Incident took place in 1866.


Offer to repatriate[edit | edit source]

During an October 2000 visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, North Korean negotiators reportedly presented an offer to repatriate the USS Pueblo as part of a proposed process of normalizing diplomatic relations between the two nations.[citation needed] However, the Department of State is unable to confirm this claim.[citation needed]

During an August 2005 diplomatic session in North Korea, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg received verbal indications from high ranking North Korean officials that the state would be willing to repatriate the Pueblo to United States authorities, on the condition that a prominent U.S. government official, such as the Secretary of State, come to Pyongyang for high level talks. While the U.S. government has publicly stated on several occasions that the return of the still commissioned Navy vessel is a priority, the current overall situation of U.S. and North Korean relations makes such an official state visit unlikely.[24]

Lawsuit[edit | edit source]

Former Pueblo crewmembers William Thomas Massie, Dunnie Richard Tuck, Donald Raymond McClarren, and Lloyd Bucher sued the North Korean government for the abuse they suffered at its hands during their captivity. North Korea did not respond to the suit. In December 2008, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. in Washington DC awarded the plaintiffs $65 million in damages, calling their treatment by North Korea "extensive and shocking."[25] The plaintiffs, as of October 2009, were attempting to collect the judgment from North Korean assets frozen by the US government.[26]

Representation in popular culture[edit | edit source]

The Pueblo incident was dramatically depicted in the critically acclaimed 1973 ABC Theater televised production Pueblo. Hal Holbrook starred as Captain Lloyd Bucher. The 2-hour drama was nominated for three Emmy Awards, and won two awards.[27][28] An earlier British dramatization for the 1970 season of ITV Playhouse starred Ray McAnally as Bucher.[29] The incident is also referenced in the "Gone Quiet" episode of The West Wing. The Star Trek episode "The Enterprise Incident" is loosely based on the Pueblo incident.[30]

See also[edit | edit source]

Other conflicts:


References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Robert E. Newton (1992). "The Capture of the USS Pueblo and Its Effect on SIGINT Operations". U.S. Cryptologic History, Special Series, Crisis Collection, Vol. 7, NSA. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB278/03.PDF. Retrieved 19 February 2010. 
  2. "Naval Vessel Register webpage on USS Pueblo – AGER-2". Nvr.navy.mil. http://www.nvr.navy.mil/nvrships/details/AGER2.htm. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  3. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-us-cs/army-sh/usash-ag/fp344.htm | Naval History and Heritage Command Online Library of Selected Images: U.S. Army cargo ship FP-344 (1944–1966) Later renamed FS-344.
  4. http://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/FS_Vessels.asp | World War II Coast Guard Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories: FS-344.
  5. Pueblo History. Navy.
  6. "Attacked by North Koreans". Usspueblo.org. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080828001626/http://www.usspueblo.org/v2f/attack/attacked.htm. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  7. American Society of International Law. Proceedings of the American Society of International Law: at its sixty third annual meeting held at Washington, D.C. 24–26 April 1969. "Questions of international law raised by the seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo."
  8. "The Pueblo Surrender – A Covert Action by the NSA". Bantam. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0553292617. Retrieved 3 November 2009. 
  9. Published: 1968. "N. Korea Seize U.S. Ship, 1968 Year in Review". UPI.com". http://www.upi.com/Audio/Year_in_Review/Events-of-1968/N.-Korea-Seize-U.S.-Ship/12303153093431-9/. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  10. “Interview with Horace W. Busby, 1981.” 04/24/1981. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  11. "New Romanian Evidence on the Blue House Raid and the USS Pueblo Incident." NKIDP e-Dossier No. 5. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  12. "South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com". Sun-sentinel.com. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/sfl-2004obits.gallery,0,3539352.photogallery. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  13. Iredale, Harry; McClintock, Ralph. "Compound 2 'The Farm'". USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. Archived from the original on 30 September 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5t7pEndvD. Retrieved 30 September 2010. "The treatment would become better or worse depending upon the day, the week, the guard, the duty officer or the situation." 
  14. Stu, Russell. "The Digit Affair". USS Pueblo Veteran's Association. Archived from the original on 30 September 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5t7qPfttm. Retrieved 30 September 2010. "The finger became an integral part of our anti-propaganda campaign. Any time a camera appeared, so did the fingers." 
  15. Bush lauded for handling of EP-3 incident WorldNetDaily.
  16. End of North Korea? The Palm Beach Times.
  17. Probst, Reed R. (16 May 1977). Negotiating With the North Koreans: The U.S. Experience at Panmunjom. Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College. http://www.nautilus.org/foia/NegotiatingwithNK.pdf. Retrieved 17 December 2009. [dead link]
  18. Published: 1969. "1969 Year in Review". Upi.com. http://www.upi.com/Audio/Year_in_Review/Events-of-1969/Chappaquiddick/12303189849225-7/#title. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Lloyd Bucher, captain of the Pueblo, buried in San Diego: North County Times – Californian 02-04-2004". Nctimes.com. 3 February 2004. http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/lloyd-bucher-captain-of-the-pueblo-buried-in-san-diego/article_cab6e1ac-b29a-5fbf-9e9d-924a8df028ab.html. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  20. Bucher, Lloyd M.; Mark Rascovich (1970). Bucher: My Story. Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0385072449. 
  21. USS Pueblo PRI's The World. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
  22. Wake History. Navy.
  23. Caroline Gluck, "North Korea drags its feet", BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1626579.stm . Retrieved 23 January 2007.
  24. "www.shippingtimes.co.uk "Saturday feature: Old flag for an old spy ship"". Shippingtimes.co.uk. http://www.shippingtimes.co.uk/item479_uss_pueblo.htm. Retrieved 11 June 2009. [dead link]
  25. Washington Post, "Damages Awarded In USS Pueblo Case", 31 December 2008, p. 5.
  26. Wilber, Del Quentin, "Hell Hath a Jury: North Korea Tortured the Crew of USS Pueblo in 1968. 4 Victims Fought for Solace in the Courts", Washington Post, 8 October 2009, p. C1.
  27. Pueblo (TV 1973) – IMDb
  28. "Pueblo – Trailer – Cast – Showtimes – NYTimes.com". The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/128338/Pueblo/overview. 
  29. ITV Playhouse: The Pueblo Affair (TV 1970) – IMDb
  30. http://www.fastcopyinc.com/orionpress/articles/enterpriseincident.htm

External links[edit | edit source]


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