Tag Archives: uss pueblo
December 7, 2010

North Korea: USS Pueblo “souvenirs”

uss pueblo north korean stamp

In a previous post about North Korea I described our group’s visit to the USS Pueblo, an American ship that was captured by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968 and has since remained in North Korean hands. To this day the North Koreans love bragging about how they captured the “US ARMED SPY SHIP PUEBLO!” (as they refer to it) and have made the ship into a tourist attraction on the banks of the Taedong River in Pyongyang. They have also placed images of the Pueblo and its crew on stamps and postcards that are available for purchase at souvenir stores in Pyongyang. For those of you who have an interest in the USS Pueblo, I am posting scans of two of the stamps I purchased that feature the Pueblo and its crew and a postcard I sent to a friend. If you speak Korean and can provide a translation for the stamps, please let me know!

uss pueblo north korean stamp

uss pueblo north korean stamp

uss pueblo north korean postcard
Notice the fake roses, seagulls, and windsurfers that have been added to the postcard. I definitely did not see any windsurfers on the Taedong River when I was there.

December 16, 2009

North Korea’s Funniest Home Videos: U.S. Imperialists aboard the USS Pueblo

Here is the North Korean Tourism DVD footage of our trip to the USS Pueblo in Pyongyang. In this clip you can hear the narrator describe how the “US armed spy ship Pueblo” was “captured by the heroic Korean People’s Army while committing espionage acts”. You can also see us “imperialists” playing around in the wheelhouse of the Pueblo and looking completely bored as the North Koreans subject us to a propaganda film describing various acts of U.S. aggression towards the DPRK. A few of us definitely have “WTF?” looks on our faces.

October 14, 2009

North Korea: U.S. Imperialists attempt to retake the USS Pueblo, and fail miserably

If you’ve known me for a while then you’re well aware of my interest in touring US warships. Ever since I can remember, my parents would take me down to San Diego so we could visit whichever ship was open to the public. I’ve been on everything from aircraft carriers to dock landing ships to guided missile cruisers. It’s a good way to see your tax dollars at work and convince impressionable youngsters that the navy life is for them (I will admit that to this day I still think of escaping the cubicle and enrolling in Navy OCS. At least I would live near the ocean, where there might be waves…).

Still, North Korea is probably the last place I would have expected to walk the decks of a U.S. navy ship. Yet, anchored on the bank of the Taedong River in Pyongyang is the USS Pueblo, a still commissioned U.S. naval ship captured by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968. It is the only U.S. naval ship currently held captive by a foreign entity, and the North Koreans are very, very proud of this trophy. They have made the “US ARMED SPY SHIP PUEBLO!” (as they refer to it) into a tourist attraction and gladly show it off to visitors, including U.S. Imperialists such as ourselves. For background information on the USS Pueblo, I highly recommend this website run by the USS Pueblo Veteran’s Association.

This monument marks the location where the General Sherman, a U.S. merchant marine schooner, was destroyed by the Koreans in 1866. The North Koreans claim that one of Kim Il-Sung’s ancestors led the attack on the Sherman. There is, of course, no actual evidence to support this assertion.

The Pueblo

Our tour guides

The North Koreans claimed that the Pueblo was in North Korean waters. The United States denied this, saying the Pueblo was in international waters. Regardless, the North Koreans opened fire on the Pueblo with 57mm guns. You can see some of the resulting damage to the ship in this photo.

The Pueblo was lightly armed, with only two .50 caliber deck guns and small arms. Commander Lloyd Bucher did not give the order to return fire. Instead, the crew began frantically destroying classified material so that it would not fall into North Korean hands. One sailor, Fireman Apprentice Duane Hodges, was killed during the attack on the USS Pueblo. The remaining 82 sailors were captured when the North Koreans boarded the Pueblo. They remained prisoners of the North Koreans for 11 months and endured brutal treatment, including torture and starvation.

You may not know what happened to the men of the Pueblo. The crew cooperated with their captors, appearing in press conferences and public appearances criticizing the US government. On March 4, North Korea gave the US representative of the armistice commission a letter, signed by the entire Pueblo crew, admitting the ship had violated the communist country’s waters and committed “hostile acts.” According to the letter, the crew expressed no anger at their captors, but rather guilt for their own actions.

To understand these confessions, we need to look at North Korean brutality. The North Koreans beat Charles Law for six hours with a hammer handle while a communications technician was struck 250 times with a two-by-four block of wood and left, semi-conscious, in a pool of his blood. The technician confessed to everything, including escape plans from a James Bond movie.

It also must be said that the men did resist with subtle language and hints, indicating that their confessions were not of their free will. Commander Bucher, after being beaten and tortured, signed the confession with a false serial number and date of birth. One letter had at the bottom in tiny Morse code “this is a lie.”

Interior of the Pueblo.

Trying to contact the Pentagon to request air support. No luck.

The “admission of guilt” that the crew was forced to sign.

The Pueblo crew was released on December 23, 1968, eleven months after their capture. This is how the Pueblo’s commanding officers were welcomed home by the U.S. Navy:

Based upon its findings of fact and the formal opinions which it derived from those findings, the Court of Inquiry recommended that Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, U. S. Navy, the Commanding Officer of USS PUEBLO., be brought to trial by General Court-Martial for the following five alleged offenses: permitting his ship to be searched while he had the power to resist; failing to take immediate and aggressive protective measures when his ship was attacked by North Korean forces; complying with the orders of the North Korean forces to follow them into port; negligently failing to complete destruction of classified material aboard USS PUEBLO and permitting such material to fall into the hands of the North Koreans; and negligently failing to ensure, before departure for sea, that his officers and crew were properly organized, stationed, and trained in preparation for emergency destruction of classified material.

Thankfully, Navy Secretary John Chafee ordered that all charges be dismissed.

On the deck

None of us knew how to drive a ship, thus foiling our plans to reclaim the Pueblo.

Near the end of our tour, we were all led down to the ship’s mess hall, where we were shown a video explaining the North Korean version of the Pueblo’s capture. We were actually shown the first 10 minutes of the video several times, as the DVD kept freezing up, forcing one of the embarrassed sailors to scramble for another copy. The video’s distortion of history was quite hilarious, and ended with the line “Death to the U.S. imperialist aggressors, the sworn enemies of the Korean people.” Well then. Following the video, our guide then yelled out, “OK U.S. group, let’s go!” Yeah, thanks. Go ahead and let everyone else on the boat know that we’re a bunch of Yankee imperialist dogs.

North Korea claims that this is an unmanned U.S. submersible they captured in August 2006. The U.S. denies that this is a U.S. sub. Who knows.

More photos here.

October 12, 2009

The USS Pueblo / North Korean Special Forces

A few days ago there was a segment on NPR about North Korea. The correspondent had actually been allowed into North Korea, but from what I could tell they are basically shown the exact same thing as us regular tourists. I really should have pursued that foreign correspondent career. I could have been getting paid to go to North Korea instead of using my own funds. Also, I wouldn’t have to dress up for work. C’est la vie.

Anyways, in the past week there have been two interesting WashPost articles about North Korea. The first concerns the crew of the USS Pueblo and their efforts to sue the North Korean government for the torture they endured after their ship was captured by the North Korean navy in 1968:

William Thomas Massie’s nightmares almost always begin in a dusty prison cell. His arms are lashed behind his back, and North Korean guards are karate-chopping his neck, kicking his groin and ankles, and smashing his face with fists and rifle butts.

The frigid room is illuminated only by tannin-tinted light trickling through newspaper-covered windows. The guards are screaming. One thrusts an assault rifle into Massie’s mouth. The soldier’s finger is on the trigger. Sweat stings Massie’s eyes. He is terrified.

The second article details North Korea’s expansion of its special forces and their adoption of terrorist tactics used in Afghanistan and Iraq:

In a conflict, tens of thousands of special forces members would try to infiltrate South Korea: by air in radar-evading biplanes, by ground through secret tunnels beneath the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and by sea aboard midget submarines and hovercraft, according to South Korean and U.S. military analysts.

Disguised in the uniforms of South Korean police and military personnel, special forces are also expected to try to walk into Seoul. Dressed as civilians, they may also arrive aboard passenger flights from Beijing and other foreign capitals.

“These are not your standard North Korean guys,” Bechtol said. “They are the best-trained, best-fed and most indoctrinated soldiers in the North. They know how to fight, and if they are caught, they are trained to kill themselves.”


Their low-tech, low-cost training includes throwing knives, firing poisonous darts and running up steep hills wearing backpacks filled with 60 pounds of rocks and sand, said Ha Tae-jun, a former South Korean commando who has debriefed captured members of the North’s special forces. They are also drilled in street warfare, chemical attacks, night fighting, martial arts, car theft and using spoons and forks as weapons, say South Korean government reports and military experts.

Beware North Korean soldiers wielding spoons…