Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The USS PUEBLO HiJacking (1/23/1968) - Nov. 4th, 2003
Posted on 11/04/2003 12:00:24 AM PST by SAMWolf
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The crew arrived early in the morning of 24 January at the first compound in Pyongyang and were placed into separate rooms. The crew nicknamed the first compound building "the Barn." It was a big masonry building containing dark, dingy corridors and high ceilings. There were many four-panel doors with transoms. The lights were only small bare lightbulbs hanging from the ceilings. The walls and floors were marble-like; the heat inside the building was turned off and the windows were all covered. The entire building smelled horribly of hay, urine, and feces and to make the whole situation worse, sounds of men yelling, screaming, stomping, and pounding echoed throughout.
While the crew was held captive, they had to endure immense torture, both mentally and physically. There were interrogations that involved severe beatings causing broken bones and the like. Due to the insufficient medical care, some crewmembers to this day bear the effects of the injuries received in captivity as well as in the initial hijacking. Some examples are being forced to wait over a week for treatment of open wounds, all the while suffering from infection and even insect infestation within the wound; performing surgical procedures with primitive equipment and no anesthetic, such as the arbitrary removal of tonsils; cutting away flesh and stitching up wounds without anesthetic; and being served water that caused dysentery and causing severe weight loss. In addition to unclean water some of the food the crew was served and had no choice but to eat consisted of turnips, parts of slaughtered pigs, including fatty skin with hair sometimes, the occasional eyeball, rotting fish nicknamed "sewer trout", "watered down pig fat soup, rice, bread... and dead flies... worms, maggots, nails, hair, teeth and anything else the NKs thought to be nutritional... an apple and goats milk occasionally." Besides the unhealthy food and water, the crew was only given the opportunity to use the restroom twice a day and bathe every six weeks. However, the only clothing the crew had was the uniform worn when captured and some of them had bullet or schrapnel holes in them with dried blood and flesh on them. About the only luxury afforded the crew was cigarettes and matches.
In addition to the physical beatings and torture the crew endured, they also underwent extreme psychological torture. Some examples are being forced to walk around with heads down to indicate shame for their actions; being required to stand at attention when a North Korean soldier entered the room; reading and watching movies full of North Korean, anti-American propoganda; and occasionally being forced to give the impression that the crew was being treated fairly through media exposure of the crew partaking in fun activities such as sports. The crew learned that the North Koreans did not know what showing the middle finger signified in the United States so they decided to use that to their advantage in future propoganda photos. The crew is seen in several pictures showing their middle fingers to the camera to indicate that the whole thing was a lie and that they were not being treated properly. The men told the North Korean guards that the gesture was a Hawaiian good luck sign. In one instance, a photo that was published in the 18 October 1968 issue of Time magazine showed several crewmembers posing for the camera while discreetly showing the "Hawaiian good luck sign."
Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, USN, former Commanding Officer of USS Pueblo (AGER-2)Receives the Purple Heart medal for injuries he received while he was a prisoner of the North Koreans, in ceremonies held in 1969, shortly after he and his crew were released.
Pueblo and her crew were captured off Wonsan, North Korea, on 23 January 1968. The crew were released on 23 December 1969.
The men of the USS Pueblo were very brave and endured more than most people could only in their nightmares, yet the U.S. government was reluctant to recognize them for their gallantry. Following the release of the crewmembers, the Navy gave out many awards to people that were involved in the release of the crew and their care but the only award that was given out to the crew itself was the Purple Heart for those wounded in action. Additional military and civilian awards were given in the early 1970s. After the creation of a Prisoner of War medal in 1985, the Pueblo was specifically unauthorized to receive it since the U.S. was not technically at war with North Korea (although the Korean War was ended in armistice). In 1990, after much lobbying by CDR Bucher, among others, and an act of Congress, the POW medal was presented to every crewmember, including civilians, which was against Navy policy to issue military awards to non-military personnel. The sole casualty of the incident, Duane Hodges, was issued the Silver Star posthumously
Sergeant Robert J. Chicca, U.S. Marine Corps, a USS Pueblo (AGER-2) crewman, greets his wife, Ann Marie, on his arrival at Naval Air Station Miramar, California, 24 December 1968. Pueblo's crew had been released from captivity by the North Korean government on 23 December. They had been captured off Wonsan on 23 January 1968.
Photographed by PHC V.O. McColley, USN.
Although North Korea released the crew, it did not return the ship itself. The ship remained in Wonsan for over thiry years serving various purposes, but its main purpose was being used as a propaganda piece for the North Koreans to exploit and boast its victory over the United States. During that thirty years on North Korea's east coast, it is also possible that Pyongyang provided the opportunity for the Soviet Union to examine the classified material and equipment. The North Koreans maintained the ship well and never repaired the many holes in the hull and superstructure from the attack.
USS Pueblo on Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea
Sources indicate that in December 1998, the Pueblo was relocated. It was not just moved to another location on the east coast as it did many times in the thirty years after its capture; it was relocated to the Taedong River in Pyongyang, on the west coast of North Korea. Pyongyang knew the military and political risks it was taking in taking the ship in international waters and around the Korean peninsula, so it was likely disguised and loaded with explosives to prevent it from being re-captured. The operational status of the Pueblo is unknown but additional sources suggest that Pueblo was towed around the Korean peninsula and did not make the journey under its own power. It is believed that North Korea moved the ship to its current location to serve as a trophy as well as a tourist museum, especially since the site is also where another American ship, the General Sherman, was sunk in 1866. To add to the authenticity of the tour, the guide is Senior Colonel Kim Joong Rok, the commander of the first boarding party when it was hijacked.
Kim Joong Rok
Due to the fact that the USS Pueblo was never formally decommissioned, it is still held by the U.S. Navy as an active ship in commission. Many attempts by Pueblo crewmembers and Congressmen have been made to get the Pueblo or its flag repatriated to the U.S. but have obviously been unsuccessul. Hopefully, when North-South Korean summit meetings and unification talks progress, Pyongyang will eventually comply with these requests and give the surviving crewmembers, as well as those interested in the incident, some sense of closure.
November is Here - Veterans Day is right around the corner.
It only takes a few minutes to write a letter to the kids and share a story of why you served.
If you aren't a Veteran then share your thoughts on why it is important to remember our Veterans on Veterans Day.
It's an opportunity for us to support our troops, our country and show appreciations for our local veterans. It's another way to counter the Anti-Iraq campaign propaganda. Would you like to help? Are there any VetsCoR folks on the Left Coast? We have a school project that everyone can help with too, no matter where you live. See the end of this post for details.
Three Northern California events have been scheduled and we need help with each:
Veterans in School - How you can help if you're not close enough to participate directly. If you are a veteran, share a story of your own with the children. If you have family serving in the military, tell them why it's important that we all support them. Everyone can thank them for having this special event. Keep in mind that there are elementary school kids.
Help us by passing this message around to other Veteran's groups. I have introduced VetsCoR and FreeperFoxhole to a number of school teachers. These living history lessons go a long way to inspire patriotism in our youth. Lets see if we can rally America and give these youngsters enough to read for may weeks and months ahead. If we can, we'll help spread it to other schools as well.
THANK YOU troops and veterans for answering the call to duty to the USA!!
THANK YOU troops and veterans for answering the call to duty to the USA!!
During the "China Incident" airplanes from the Japanese Navy attacked and sank an American gunboat, the USS Panay. Captain James Hughes was following orders to assist the evacuation of American citizens and Standard Oil tankers up the Yangtze river from Nanking. The Japanese planes attacked at 1:27 pm Dec. 12, strafing and dropping bombs. Hughes ordered everyone to abandon ship. On shore, Hughes sent a radio message to the U.S. ambassador in Hankow 200 miles upriver. The survivors travelled Hohsien where they were picked up by the British gunboat HMS Bee and the Panay's sister ship USS Oahu, and taken to Shanghai where they boarded the USS Augusta Dec. 17 for the trip to the United States. The attack had been filmed by Norman Alley of Universal Newsreel and Eric Mayell of Fox Movietone News, and their film was widely seen in American theaters in January 1938.
USS Panay (PR-5) "was built by Kiangoan Dockyard and Engineering Works, Shanghai, China; launched 10 November 1927; sponsored by Mrs. Ellis S. Stone; and commissioned 10 September 1928, Lt. Comdr. James Mackey Lewis in command. Built for duty in the Asiatic Fleet on the Yangtze Patrol, Panay had as her primary mission the protection of American lives and property frequently threatened in the disturbances the 1920s and 30s brought to China struggling to modernize, to create a strong central government, and, later, to meet Japanese aggression. Throughout Panay's service, navigation on the Yangtze was constantly menaced by bandits and soldier outlaws of various stripes, and Panay and her sisters provided the protection necessary for American shipping and nationals, as other foreign forces did for their citizens. Often parties from Panay served as armed guards on American steamers plying the river. In 1931 her commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. R. A. Dyer, reported: "Firing on gunboats and merchant ships have (sic.) become so routine that any vessel traversing the Yangtze River, sails with the expectation of being fired upon." and "Fortunately, the Chinese appear to be rather poor marksmen and the ship has, so far, not sustained any casualties in these engagements."
As the Japanese moved through South China, American gunboats evacuated most of the Embassy staff from Nanking during November 1937. Panay was assigned as station ship to guard the remaining Americans and take them off at the last possible moment. They came on board 11 December and Panay moved upriver to avoid becoming involved in the fighting around the doomed capital. Three American merchant tankers sailed with her. The Japanese senior naval commander in Shanghai was informed both before and after the fact of this movement. On 12 December, Japanese naval aircraft were ordered by their Army to attack "any and all ships" in the Yangtze above Nanking. Knowing of the presence of Panay and the merchantmen, the Navy requested verification of the order, which was received before the attack began about 1327 that day and continued until Panay sank at 1554. Three men were killed, 43 sailors and 5 civilian passengers wounded. A formal protest was immediately lodged by the American ambassador. The Japanese government accepted responsibility, but claimed the attack unintentional. A large indemnity was paid 22 April 1938 and the incident officially settled. However, further deterioration of relations between Japan and the United States continued, as did provocations, many of them stemming from the Japanese Army whose extremists wished war with the United States." (text from Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships)
According to Charles Jellison, the reaction to the sinking of the Panay was mixed: "When news of the attack reached the U.S. capital, a furious President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a strong response, 'a forceful gesture,' to put the Japanese on notice that the United States did not take such matters lightly Roosevelt and his cabinet discussed possible reprisals, including holding naval maneuvers in the China Sea or cutting off certain exports critical to Japan. It soon became apparent, though, that not many of the president's countrymen shared his outrage - or, if they did, they preferred not to make a big issue of it. Political leaders of both parties, including most of Roosevelt's cabinet, downplayed the incident and urged restraint, as did most of the press and the people at large. Nevertheless, President Roosevelt instructed Secretary of State Cordell Hull to deliver a letter of protest to the Japanese ambassador in Washington, advising the Japanese government that he was "deeply shocked and concerned." The president demanded an apology, full compensation for the attack, and assurances guaranteeing against a similar episode in the future. On December 24, the U.S. government received a formal apology from Tokyo. The Japanese government would, of course, punish those responsible for the 'grave blunder' caused by 'poor visibility' and pay full reparations. Washington officials prepared a bill of indemnification and sent it to Tokyo. Within four months the U.S. government received a check for $2,214,007.36. Meanwhile the Japanese press and public outdid themselves in expressions of friendship and 3 sympathy toward the American people. Tokyo schoolchildren contributed $10,000 worth of pennies to a fund for the victims of the Panay, and Americans in Japan were stopped on the streets and offered apologies. In what one Tokyo newspaper called 'an uttermost gesture,' a young Japanese woman appeared at the U.S. Embassy, cut off her hair, and presented it to the American ambassador.
"The newsreels reached American movie houses in mid-January Norman Alley was correct - between the two of them, he and Eric Mayell had missed very little. Viewers could see the Panay bobbing about at anchor in the middle of the river, minding its own business with its colors in full view, while from almost directly overhead the sun shone down through a cloudless sky. Suddenly Japanese planes swooped down on the ship. Time and again they came, savaging the Panay with bombs and machine-gun fire, while the movie cameras jumped about wildly with each explosion. The cameras had recorded scenes of the ship's devastation, the strafing of the lifeboats, the suffering of the wounded among the reeds, and the search planes circling overhead. There was no mistaking the meaning of it all - the Japanese had lied. There had been no visibility problem, no mistaken identity, and no 'grave blunder.' The Japanese had known what they were doing, all right, and they had done it with a vengeance. Even so, the American people were not exactly stirred to great wrath. They were clearly in no mood for the effects of another Maine or Lusitania. With the results of the Depression still being felt, people had enough to worry about at home without risking war with Japan over something that had happened half a world away. Instead the people chose to vent their anger, such as it was, against their own government. What was an American gunboat doing in China in the first place? Didn't the president and Congress know there was a war going on over there? What were they trying to do, make the Orient safe for democracy? All good questions, but they missed the point--a United States naval vessel had been deliberately and wantonly sunk by a foreign nation in time of peace. Shouldn't something be done about it? The answer was obviously "No." And anxious to avoid war, the United States government accepted the Japanese explanation and, in effect, let the matter drop. Yet it was a bitter pill for President Roosevelt to swallow. "I suppose it could be argued," he said to a friend, "that doing nothing is the next best thing to doing something." "Now," commented a small-town Idaho newspaper, "we can all sit back sans excitement--until Japan decides to sink another of our warships." (text from Jellison)
The Sandpebbles...Truly a Classic