You’re in the military, the Navy to be exact. You take your oath seriously, and you’re a crew member of a ship designated as an intelligence security vessel during the height of the Vietnam Conflict.
Because the creeping Communism threat was part of America’s vernacular, consciousness, and good-vs-evil modalities; things obviously were pretty tense. But things were also tense for North Korea since their border was defined by the DMZ zone . . . an armistice which was agreed upon by communist countries China and North Korea with democratically aligned South Korea and the United Nations.
The problem: The armistice was a loosly-based agreement which suffered ongoing, multiple incidents of coup d’etat plots and various territorial penetrations. So, let’s just say North Korea was overly wary, aggressive and cautious.
The commander of the American vessel was Lloyd Bucher. He was instructed to conduct an intelligence gathering mission off the coast of North Korea, and report on the Soviet Union’s naval activities in this hot-bed region.
The Law of the Sea recognizes that 12 miles off of a coastline is deemed as international waters. Commander Bucher did one better, he maintained 13 miles off of the North Korean coastline. Well, the Law of the Sea is all well and good when the country you’re gathering intelligence on recognizes that standard.
What happens when that country claims their territorial water extends to 50 miles? You have the USS Pueblo incident which unfolded on January 23, 1968 – the first time an American naval vessel was captured since the War of 1812.
Duane Hodges was killed, and the remaining 81 crew members were assembled, blindfolded and taken as prisoners. They suffered starvation and torture techniques, which included fake firing squads to compel confessions of espionage.
Photographed and paraded before cameras, the members of Pueblo were being used in North Korea’s ongoing propaganda campaign . . . to a degree. Amidst all of their torture, fear and uncertainty, they held fast.
But North Korea wasn’t the only country who practiced torture on American Naval POWs.
It was early in 1966, during the Vietnam Conflict, when the world found out that sadistic, unspeakable torture deluged American POWs at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors.
One remarkable prisoner was paraded out before cameras for propaganda purposes. Jeremiah Denton, who also did a stint at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, was a Naval Aviator POW for 7-1/2 years; four of which was spent in solitary confinement. He and William Tschudy were captured when their jet was shot down during its bombing run over Thanh Hoa in North Vietnam.
As Denton was being questioned before the cameras, he participated in the sham propaganda film . . . to a degree. He managed to subtly sneak out a message by blinking – yes, blinking – in Morse Code . . .
T – O – R – T – U – R – E.
Talk about having control and resilience.
On February 12, 1973, along with numerous other American POWs, both Denton and Tschudy were released as a result of diplomatic negotiations – Operation Homecoming.
Southeast Asia was a Cold War hotspot for our country. Thousands of American lives tragically were lost in those far-away lands. Ruled by despots who tried to extend the communism doctrine and portray our country as a Paper Tiger, the United States had to take serious notice of that region. And it was during those turbulent years in our history when American soldiers captured in Vietnam and North Korea showcased their control, resilience and patriotism.
While it took Vietnam years to ultimately release our POWs, North Korea released the Pueblo prisoners after 11 months as a result of negotiations with a representative of the United Nations, U.S. Army General Gilbert Woodward. In order to free the prisoners, Woodward agreed to sign a North Korean prepared document which included admission of U.S. espionage against North Korea. ” . . . solemnly apologizes for the grave acts of espionage committed by the U.S. ship against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea after having intruded into the territorial waters of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and gives firm assurance that no U.S. ships will intrude again.”
Of course, once the prisoners were out of North Korea’s control, the United States denied any wrong-
doing or infractions took place.
After 40 years, the USS Pueblo has never been returned . . . she remains a POW, and is listed as a commissioned vessel of the U.S. Navy.
They said tomay-toe, we said tomatto. They said potay-toe, we said pottato. But . . . nobody called the whole thing off.
It doesn’t look like North Korea has any intention to blink.
April 1, 2014 Update: Please See Welcome Page for remarkable video of American POW Jeremiah Denton’s during the Vietnam Conflict