The USS Pueblo was a U.S. spy ship that was captured and seized during the height of the cold war, 45 years ago, by North Korea. It has become a top tourist attraction for Pyongyang, North Korea. The former members of the crew, want it returned or destroyed.
9News.com reports, the ship was a converted riverboat transport, converted to a “spy” ship that was working in international waters off of North Korea. It was captured in international waters in 1968 and seized. The Pueblo is the only current U.S. Navy vessel being held captive and still listed as a commissioned vessel in the Naval Fleet.
The surviving members of the crew, Robert Chicca and Earl Phares, want the ship returned or destroyed.
“Well, I was in the galley, doing my two weeks of galley duty and we were cleaning up from the noon meal and of course the night before, we had seen the trawler that had come around the ship, nothing to be worried about. You know we were in international waters.”
Being in international waters didn’t stop North Korea from chasing them down and commandeering the Pueblo. The ship was lightly armed and slower than the chasing North Korean ships.
Chicca said, in an interview,
“And so they shot us up pretty well. Wounded a dozen people or so, killed on guy. Eventually, Commander Bucher rang up all stop, and if there was a point of seizure, that was probably it.”
One American sailor was killed and the other 82 crew members were held captive for 11 months. During the “Pueblo Incident”, as it was known, the crew was used as propaganda by North Korea and they were paraded in front of the world’s media, along with their supposed written confessions.
The story references a North Korean news film that showed, “Correspondents of many countries of the world saw with deep interest confessions written by Officer and men of the USS Pueblo, various documentary evidence attesting to the true facts of the vicious plots.”
Phares said that while they were in the custody of the North Koreans, they were beaten and tortured. They were desperately seeking a way to communicate their duress and a member of the crew told his captors that flying the bird, the middle finger, was a “Hawaiian good luck sign and would use it while being photographed.
The Captain, Lloyd M. Bucher, reported that he had given false confessions in order to save the lives of his men. Upon his release and return to the U.S. he faced a court martial but Secretary of the Navy intervened and no action was taken against him.
To this day, the Pueblo is still moored in PyongYang 45 years later. This fact still pains the Chicca and Phares. They both believe that ship should have been destroyed years ago.
Phares said, “I kind of was hoping we’d go to war with Korea over this last little thing and just have a couple of B-52’s just go over and bomb the heck out of it and get it off the face of the earth so the Navy could take it off it’s roster ad the Korean’s can’t have it anymore.”
Richard Rogala, a former cook on the Pueblo, spends a lot of his time raising awareness about the Pueblo’s plight and urging it’s return. Rogala says, “It’s been 45 years that they have had that ship. And it’s been commissioned and never been decommissioned. And we’ve never made an effort to get the thing back or anything.”
“Everything that happens daily with North Korea is a part of my life, knowing that that ship is there.”, he added.
Reports that the Pueblo is being restored by the North Koreans, tells Bob Chicca that the ship is coming home anytime soon. “It’s very disappointing to have it still there and still being used as anti-American propaganda.”, Chicca said.