Monday, February 1, 2010


USS Pueblo (AGER-2), a Banner-class technical research ship (US Navy Intelligence), was boarded and captured by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 23 January 1968. The Pueblo Incident became one of the major incidents of what is now considered the "Second Korean War".

North Korea stated that she 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 the DPRK today, officially remains a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy.[1] It is currently located in Pyongyang, where it is used as a museum ship. It is the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held captive.


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

On 21 January a modified Soviet style sub chaser, SO-I class, passed within two miles (4 km) of the Pueblo.

The next day two DPRK fishing trawlers (Lenta Class) passed within 25 yards (23 m) of Pueblo. That day, a North Korean unit made an assassination attempt against South Korean leadership targets, but the crew of Pueblo were not informed.

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 DPRK 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.

U.S. Naval 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 the DPRK's territory. The mission statement allowed her to approach within a nautical mile (1.852 km) of that limit. The DPRK, however, claims a 50-nautical-mile (90 km) sea boundary even though international standards were 12 nautical miles (22 km) at the time.

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. The crew inside the security space on board the Pueblo had over an hour to destroy sensitive material before the ship was boarded.


Commander Lloyd "Pete" Bucher in 1967

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 Pueblo's situation.

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commanding Officer of the Pueblo, bitterly recalled that commanders had failed to come to his aid.

"The U.S. at that time had enormous military forces in the western Pacific within five minutes flying time of us," Bucher told The Associated Press in 1988. "I would have thought something could be mustered to come to our aid. But everybody just forgot we were there."

"The U.S. at that time had enormous military forces in the western Pacific within five minutes flying time of us," Bucher told The Associated Press in 1988. "I would have thought something could be mustered to come to our aid. But everybody just forgot we were there."

More likely, no one wanted to take responsibility for an attack on North Korean vessels attacking Pueblo. By the time President Lyndon 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 Apprentice 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.


The Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew was moved twice to POW camps, with some of the crew reporting upon release that 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.

The conduct of Commander Bucher and the crew of the Pueblo while in captivity is held to this day as the epitome of prisoner-of-war resistance, amongst military survival schools and college psychology courses alike.

Bucher was brutally tortured and put through mock executions 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 DPRK. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung". (The word "paean" sounds identical to the term 'pee on'.)

Bucher's 'Final Confession' is a classic of disinformation and doublespeak; a masterpiece of the Cold War, it deserves close inspection.


Crew of USS Pueblo upon release on 23 DEC 1968.

Following an apology and 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 Koreans released 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 one at a time, fifteen seconds apart. Exactly 11 months after being taken prisoner, Pete Bucher led his crew across the "Bridge of No Return" to freedom. 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 82 crewmen and one dead body".

A gaunt Pete Blucher receives the Purple Heart medal after shortly after repatriation in December of 1968.

Bucher's surrender of his small ship, loaded with intelligence information, was harshly criticized by a Navy Court of Inquiry convened in Coronado. The court recommended Bucher face a general court-martial for allegedly failing to defend the Pueblo, allowing the ship to be searched and other offenses.

Navy Secretary John H. Chafee turned down the court-martial, saying crew members "have suffered enough."


A literal blip on the radar screen, the Pueblo Incident represents a significant event of the Cold War - such was the power of symbols during the fifty year struggle between Communism and the Free World. The Saga of the USS Pueblo was immortalized in song; 'Ride, Captain Ride' is played to this day on radio stations across the USA, yet few Americans realize the true meaning of the popular 70's song by Blues Image:


  1. Thanks for the "rest of the story". I didn't know about the song tie-in, but was vaguely familiar with the incident.

    These are the kind of incidents that make me really angry. We think our military has lapses, but the military of the 50's and 60's has so many shameful incidents... and of course they lapse over and over through to modern day. Too much political ass-covering and good men give their lives.... only to be forgotten except by a few.

    But that's part and parcel of our military. Always has been. And we serve knowing it right up front. Still the best military in the world and protecting the shining beacon of freedom, America.

    May she muddle through these troubled times and be renewed in 2010 and 2o12 with solid leadership that does not wish to bring her down and diminish her outstanding history.

  2. We had landed at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, on an enroute stop to a deployment base on Okinawa. We learned of the Pueblo's taking there. When we got to Kadena (Okinawa) there was some belated show of force but it was ineffectual. Don't know what the Navy was doing, but the Air Force was flying combat air patrols along the DMZ. The Norks were putting out noise jamming on the radio frequencies.

    A friend who flew B-52 told me that his crew had been tapped to fly into Wonsan harbor and sink the Pueblo with a load of iron bombs. Needless to say, that mission never took place.

    A year or so after that, the Norks shot down a Navy EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan. It too was well out in international waters.

  3. I met a former crewman in the ER where I work last year. He still doesn't have anything nice to say about the NORKS.

  4. Very good post. Thanks. Rather than talk about court martials the crew should have been issued with a special campaign medal. What lessons have been learnt from the Pueblo incident I wonder ? What would be the response today ? And how would a Nth.Korean pronounce Pueblo ?

  5. It sounds like Peb-bro or Preb-ro, but what's even funnier is that they can't say korea, it sounds more like "career".

    Watch this video from Shane Smith of Vice Magazine &, it's part 4 of "The Vice Guide To North Korea" & documents the Norks view of the Pueblo incident, & Shane's trip to Norkville, it's s hoot:

  6. Ok, here's a shorter link to that video,

  7. There's an interesting theory that the Norks were put up to the job by the Russians because they had messages coming from John Walker and needed the hardware to decipher it. I'm inclined to believe it, but still not one of the Navy's finer moments.

  8. Thanks Sean.
    Miles to go before we sleep. Something else to pass on to the little ones.
    I've always loved that song now it breaks my heart and love it more.

  9. I think we should tell the terrorists that the next terrorist event will trigger a small nuke dropped on Mecca and a bigger one each time they mess with us.
    Yeah, I know, different enemies and all that.

  10. Great post from my high school years. Didn't know what that song was about all that time. Again a sad example of "leadership" on the political and military side.


  11. A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy by Mitchell B. Lerner. The Pueblo Incident is a detailed examination of the seizure of an American spy ship in 1968 and the failure of American political and national security institutions to deal with armed piracy and hostage taking.
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  12. Sorry to burst you bubble, guys, but the US Government knew exactly what it was doing and failed at nothing.

  13. These were terrible times and the US Navy would again 'stand down' just like the USS Liberty incident ignoring it's young boys in time of need. The USS Pueblo is a particularly troublesome incident as we were outside territorial waters and it was well known that the USSR desired a decripting machine to match discs already in their hands from US Spy John Walker

  14. It amazes me all the stories I read about the Pueblo incicent and most are wrong. I have no doubt the Pueblo violated the set boundary, that was its job. That was the only way to collect data on how advanced the N. Koreans were. The mistake the Navy made was to send the Pueblo in without the ability to defend itself. Usually a destroyer would escort them in. Yes there was a plan to bomb the Pueblo but everything had already been compromised so that was quickly nixed. There was another plan to invade to get the crew and tow the ship out but Johnson chickened out. Within 48 hours after it was taken every code was replaced, it was just a pain in the butt to switch to the new codes. The only thing the N.Koreans got was some electronic equipment on how we collect data on them. Which was all replaced and modernized within a year. They got crap in other words. The Pueblo was not a Spy Ship, it was an Electronic Data Collection Ship. I was aboard one of the first ships sent to the Sea of Japan to try and get the Pueblo back. What people don't know is how close we came to another war.

    1. You don't know as much as you think you do about the incident. There is no reason to believe that the ship violated the NK boundary. There are other issues that won't be brought up here, but the short answer is that NK got AMAZING intel, and it was quickly shipped to the Russians and was exploited for decades afterwards. Google "John Walker" for declassified details.

  15. I remember seeing the Pueblo incident, on television , February, 1974. I was shocked at how the crewmembers were treated. I wish I could have met Lloyd Mark Bucher in person before his death. He is a true, classic hero. Orphaned before the age of two, he was adopted, only to be orphaned again. He was passed from relative to relative, and ended up at Boys Town in Nebraska. He survived horrific odds as a kid / teen, only to have his own Government betray him. He is a good , role model and example for our youth.

  16. I got to speak with the XO of the Pueblo, long after the event. He had an RV sales operation in El Cajon, CA. Very interesting talk.

  17. What US Submarines tried to rescue the Pueblo after there capture? How does one find out? I served aboard a submarine that was outfitted with "special equipment" we were also caught, but escaped after many hours submerged, . We were depth charged!! I have PTSD!!!! How can I prove this??? I need help!!