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History: January 23 – On this day back in 1968 Capture of the USS Pueblo

THE PUEBLO INCIDENT The Pueblo was an electronic eavesdropper syphoning signals for further analysis. She was forcibly seized by North Korea Jan 23, 1968. The crew was released Dec 24, 1968. In Cdr. Bucher’s testimony he presented the most detailed testimony of anyone over many days, covering the time from when he assumed command until repatriation. He described Pueblo’s shortcomings, the trip from Sasebo, navigational procedures, weather conditions, oceanographic operations, observation by North Korean fishing trawlers, and specifically denied the 17 intrusions into territorial waters claimed by North Korean propaganda. He presented details of the seizure of Pueblo, praising the crew’s performance. The North Koreans asked what his mission was and said he responded they were performing oceanographic research and electromagnetic study of sunspots. They told him he and his men were civilian CIA espionage agents and would be tried and shot. Capt. Newsome questioned Cdr. Bucher closely about his maneuvering decisions, efforts to resist, and the destruction of classified materials while Pueblo was under attack. Commander Bucher was charged for permitting his ship to be boarded while he had the power to resist; failing to take immediate and aggressive measures when his ship was attacked; complying with the orders of the North Koreans; negligently failing to complete destruction of classified material, and permitting such material to fall into the hands of the North Koreans; negligently failing to ensure, before departure for sea, that his officers and men were properly organized, stationed, and trained. The Court’s Chief Judge stated Commander Bucher “upheld morale in a superior manner; provided leadership by maintaining a command structure and provided guidance for conduct; and he contributed measurably to the ability of the crew to hold together and withstand the trials of detention until repatriation could be effected.” Reviewing the Court’s findings, Secty of the Navy John H. Chafee threw out the charges. “In the Court’s recommendations with respect to Commander Bucher, Lieutenant Murphy, and Lieutenant Harris, it is my opinion — even assuming further proceedings were had, and even going so far as to assume that judgment of guilt were to be reached — they have suffered enough, and further punishment would not be justified. These officers were illegally imprisoned by the North Koreans for eleven months.” The Court of Inquiry found Rear Admiral Johnson, then Commander Naval Forces Japan, derelict in the performance of duty in negligently failing to plan for effective support during PUEBLO’s mission. It found Captain Gladding, Director Naval Security Group Pacific, derelict in the performance of duty by failing to ensure the readiness of PUEBLO’s Research Detachment, and coordinate services to provide support to PUEBLO prior to the mission, i.e., destruction of outdated material prior to leaving port. They received letters of reprimand. Commander Bucher continued his Navy career until retirement. After a fight with the Pentagon, Bucher and his men were awarded the Prisoner of War Medal. He died in San Diego on 28 January 2004, at the age of 76. THE USS PUEBLO IS STILL IN NORTH KOREA. In October 1999, it was towed from Wonsan to the Nampo shipyard, then relocated to Pyongyang’s Fatherland Liberation War Museum. The Pueblo is a floating tourist attraction. The USS Pueblo, remains the second-oldest commissioned U.S. Navy ship, behind the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”).