This Saturday will mark the 60th anniversary when both North and South Korea signed the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. The official estimates put the death toll at over 1.2 million. The total cost of the war is estimated to be 67 billion, in today’s figures that would be close to 600 billion.
Despite the truce being signed tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula. As a result of this uneasiness the United States lost a spy ship which was seized by North Korea on Jan. 23, 1968.
The U.S.S. Pueblo was captured about 15 miles from the coast of North Korea. They claimed the Pueblo strayed into their territorial waters and was seized because of the supposed violation.
The capture of the Pueblo came almost a week after President Johnson gave his State of the Union Address before the start of the Tet Offensive. The spy ship left Yokosuka, Japan, with orders to intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet Union naval activity in the Tsushima Strait.
The Pueblo was to gather signal and electronic intelligence from North Korea. Our nation’s account states that the Pueblo was approached by a sub chaser and her nationality was challenged to which the Americans raised the U.S. flag. The North Korean vessel ordered the Pueblo to stand down or be fired upon.
The Pueblo attempted to flee but it was slower than the sub chaser. As she tried to escape three torpedo boats appeared on the horizon and began to give chase. Two MiG-21 jets also joined the chase and subsequent attack on the Pueblo. None of the machine guns on the spy ship were manned and were covered by cold weather tarpaulins.
An NSA report reveals that defensive armament, the machine guns, “should be stowed or covered in such manner so that it does not cause unusual interest by surveyed units. It should be used only in the event of a threat to survival.” As a result the Pueblo wasn’t ready to defend herself and was captured.
One U.S. sailor was killed, and three were wounded, when the Koreans strafed the Pueblo with machine-gun fire. The remaining 82 members of the crew were taken prisoner. The North Koreans then sailed the Pueblo to the port of Wonsan.
The crew of the Pueblo was held captive for 11 months; they endured beatings and a lack of proper nourishment. Robert Chicca was a Marine Corps sergeant who served as a Korean linguist on the Pueblo. In an interview on the Marine Corps Times website, he said:
I got shot up in the original capture, so we were taken by bus and then train for an all-night journey to Pyongyang in North Korea, and then they put us in a place we called the barn. We had fried turnips for breakfast, turnip soup for lunch, and fried turnips for dinner. There was never enough to eat, and personally I lost about 60 pounds over there.
The crew was released across the Demilitarized Zone two days before Christmas, 335 days after their capture. The Pueblo Incident remains a vivid memory for those involved. The Marine Corps Times also says about the incident:
“The ship is North Korea’s greatest Cold War prize. Its government hopes the Pueblo will serve as a potent symbol of how the country has stood up to the great power of the United States, once in an all-out ground war and now with its push to develop the nuclear weapons and sophisticated missiles it needs to threaten the U.S. mainland.”
The Pueblo is still listed as a commissioned Navy vessel and is the only one being held by a foreign nation.
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