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.