As the U.S. Navy increases pressure on North Korea with a guided missile destroyer moving closer to their shores, American military leaders will likely reflect on a similar move 45 years ago that resulted in an 11-month hostage crisis.
On January 23, 1968, in international waters more than 15 miles from North Korean shores, the USS Pueblo, an electronic intelligence ship, was surrounded by sub chasers and torpedo boats, with MiG jets overhead.
Capt. Lloyd Bucher, the commanding officer, had his teletype operator send a frantic message to forces in Japan:
“Have been requested to follow into Wonsan [North Korea]. Have three wounded and one man with leg blown off. Have not used weapons nor uncovered 50 cal MG [machine gun]. Destroying all key lists and as much [electronic equipment] as possible. How about some help, these guys mean business.”
But help never arrived and there was little chance of escape.
The sailors on the Pueblo were rounded up and put in prison camps. While the North produced propaganda footage showing fair treatment, the reality was much worse. The crew endured starvation and torture for nearly a year.
Donald McClarren, a sailor on the Pueblo, later testified about his harsh treatment, as reported in the Washington Post. After enduring torture, he thought he was going to be killed:
“And as I sat there, the officer that was behind the chair pulled out his gun and put it to my head and went ‘click.’ And the thought that went through my mind then was, ‘Am I going to hear the bang and is the bullet going to hurt when it hits?’ And I went blank.”
Since he was the commanding officer, Capt. Bucher was threatened with execution and beaten repeatedly. He held out but was finally forced to give in after being told his crew would be executed one by one if he did not confess to spying, according to The USS Pueblo Veterans Association.
With the Vietnam war raging, there was never a military response aimed at Pyongyang. Instead, President Lyndon Johnson used diplomacy to free the men, engaging in direct talks with the North.
To secure their ultimate release on Dec. 23, 1968, the United States agreed to apologise for violating North Korean territory, admit to spying, and give the North an assurance of never spying again, according to About.com.
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