THE PUEBLO INCIDENT
Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew was moved twice to POW camps, with some of the crew reporting on release they were starved and regularly tortured while in North Korean custody. This treatment was allegedly worsened when the North Koreans realized that crewmen were secretly giving them "the finger" in staged propaganda photos.
Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commanding Officer of the Pueblo, was tortured and 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. None of the Koreans knew English well enough to write the confession, so they had Bucher write it himself. They verified the meaning of his words, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the North Korean state. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung."
Following an apology, a written admission by the US that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the US would not spy in the future, the North Korean government decided to release the 82 remaining crew members. On 23 December 1968 the crew was taken by buses to the DMZ border with South Korea and ordered to walk south across the "Bridge of No Return". Exactly 11 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 US 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 82 crewmen and one dead body". Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commanding Officer of the Pueblo and all the officers and crew 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. 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.
There is some debate as to whether Commander Bucher acted within his orders. It was clearly stated in his orders that Bucher was not to spark an international incident. The Americans allege that North Korea attacked and boarded Pueblo in international waters a clear act of war, whereas the DPRK has stated the Pueblo was in violation of the territorial limit. Historically, US ships engaged in the collection of intelligence would often approach the very limits of territorial waters and sometimes cross over for brief periods of time. Such actions would often prompt the target country to mobilize parts of their military and thereby provide more intelligence for the US ship to capture. The question is posed whether or not Bucher should have kept Pueblo in the area after the first encounter of a gunboat. Those familiar with the operations of the ship point out that such encounters were routine while on station, and it was expected that Bucher would remain on station in spite of such events. Further, Bucher was not informed of escalating tensions between North Korea and the South Korean-US bloc in the days leading up to the capture of Pueblo. Bucher died in San Diego on January 28, 2004, partly resulting from complications from the injuries he had suffered of his time as a prisoner of war in North Korea.
Pueblo is still held by North Korea. In October 1999, it was towed from Wonson on the east coast, around the Korean Peninsula, to Nampo on the west coast. This required moving the vessel through international waters. No attempt to recapture the Pueblo was made. This move was done just before the visit of US presidential envoy James Kelly to the capital Pyongyang. The present location of Pueblo is in Pyongyang.
The Pueblo (AGER-2) was the third ship named after Pueblo, Colorado. It remains today a commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy. It is widely, but incorrectly, believed to be the first American ship to have been captured since the wars in Tripoli. On December 8, 1941, the river gunboat USS Wake (PR-3) was captured by Japanese forces while moored in Shanghai.
USS Pueblo is one of the primary tourist attractions in Pyongyang, North Korea, having attracted over 250,000 visitors since being moved to the Taedong River. The Pueblo is now anchored at the very spot where the General Sherman Incident is believed to have taken place in 1866. Often tourists are led through the ship by a guided tour. Participants will first enter the ship for a 15-minute video shown from a small TV set mounted in the ceiling, explaining how the North Koreans captured the ship, with some old film footage from that time. All areas of the ship are shown, including the secret communications room full of encryption machines and radio equipment, still in a partly disassembled state after they were inspected by North Korean technicians. One highlight of the guided tour is a photo opportunity where visitors may have their pictures taken while holding the forward-mounted machine-gun.
North Korea offers to repatriate the USS Pueblo
During an August 2005 diplomatic session in North Korea, former US Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg received verbal indications from high-ranking North Korean officials that the juche state would be willing to repatriate the USS Pueblo to United States authorities, on the condition that a prominent US government official, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, come to Pyongyang for high-level talks. While the US government has publicly stated on several occasions that the return of the still-commissioned Navy vessel is a priority, the current overall situation of US-North Korean relations makes such an official state visit very unlikely. The US government has taken the position that North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, human rights record, and its reputation as a sponsor of terrorism are its main concerns, and that the USS Pueblo is of low priority at this time
During an October 2000 visit to Pyongyang by then-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. However, the Department of State is unable to confirm this claim. The offer dissipated with the US policy shift under George W. Bush.
The Pueblo Incident is the most embarrassing incident in American History. Using our captured Navy Ship as a tourist attraction by North Korea is an insult.