On January 28, 1968, fourteen miles from North Korean land, the USS PUEBLO was attacked and captured by overwhelming forces from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The crew was detained and interrogated until their release on December 23, 1968, 338 days after their capture.

Despite the crew’s valiant efforts to destroy classified materials on board, much was still undestroyed and fell into North Korean hands when the ship was captured.

What Events Lead to the USS PUEBLO INCIDENT?

In the 1960s, the U.S. cryptologic community, comprised of NSA and the Service Cryptologic Components, conducted communications intercept via specially-configured ships. These vessels, known as “technical research ships,” or TRSs, could respond quickly to crises and provide needed intercept coverage in global regions where there were unanticipated needs for intelligence information.

In 1967, after more than a decade in which conflict on the Korean Peninsula had been relatively muted, North Korea, the DPRK, became increasingly aggressive toward South Korea, the ROK. In fact, at the time the mission of the USS PUEBLO was being conducted, North Korean commandos had just invaded Seoul on a mission to assassinate the ROK president.

The United States had a mutual defense agreement with the ROK but was heavily involved in the war in Southeast Asia. U.S. military leaders sought additional information on the DPRK to assist their decision making in this renewed conflict in Northeast Asia.

The intelligence community judged that use of TRSs was an effective way to respond quickly. The USS PUEBLO, a converted World War II supply ship, was one of the vessels assigned this collection mission. Although arguably not seaworthy, the USS PUEBLO was refitted for a SIGINT mission, sailed to Japan in late 1967, and then to the east coast of the DPRK.

For its mission, the USS PUEBLO was instructed to be scrupulous about staying in international waters, which the United States interpreted as twelve miles from land, the international norm at that time. North Korea, however, claimed a boundary of two hundred miles for its national waters.

What Happened to the Crew of the PUEBLO?


One member of the crew (FN Duane Hodges) died as a result of injuries sustained during the ship’s capture. The North Koreans detained and interrogated the ship’s remaining 82-member crew for eleven months. Many among the crew were highly experienced in U.S. SIGINT operations.  On December 23, 1968 after a U.S. military representative signed a formal apology for intruding into DPRK waters –- a statement he repudiated verbally immediately after signing it — the crew was returned. The USS PUEBLO itself is still located in North Korea.

Upon the crew’s return, the crew was questioned by experts to determine the extent of compromises of classified documents, equipment, and other information. In addition, reflecting the high emotions prevalent in the time, the crew was frequently tarnished with unfair blame for the incident. Today, history views the crews’ valiant efforts as courageous. All crew members, including the civilian oceanographers, who were held prisoner were authorized the Prisoner of War Medal. All military crew members were authorized the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon. The crew are true American heroes.

A Listing of the Valiant Crew Members*, U.S. Heroes, by name


                         CDR Lloyd Bucher                                LT Stephen Harris
                       LT Edward Murphy                             LT(jg) F. Schumacher
                         ENS Timothy Harris                             CWO-4 Gene Lacy
                       CTMCS Ralph Bouden                         ENC Monroe Goldman
                       CTTC James Kell                                   CT1 Don Bailey
                       HM1 Herman Baldridge                     CT1 Michael Barrett
                         EN1 Rushel Blansett                            YN1 Armando Canales
                         SK1 Policarpo Garcia                           CT1 Francis Ginther
                         EMI Gerald Hagenson                         BM1 Norbert Klepac
                       QM1 Charles Law                                CT1 James Layton
                         PH1 Lawrence Mack                           CT1 Donald Peppard
                         CT1 David Ritter                                  EN1 William Scarborough
                         CT1 James Sheppard                           CT2 Michael Alexander
                         CT2 Wayne Anderson                         BM2 Ronald Berens
                         SGT Robert Chicca                               IC2 Victor Escamilla
                         SGT Robert Hammond                        RM2 Lee Hayes
                         CT2 Peter Langenberg                        SM2 Wendell Leach
                         CS2 Harry Lewis                                   CT2 Donald McClarren
                         ET2 Clifford Nolte                                CT2 Charles Sterling
                         GM2 Kenneth Wadley                        CT2 Elton Wood
                         CT3 Charles Ayling                               CT3 Paul Brusnahan
                         BM3 Willie Bussell                               RM3 Charles Crandell
                         CT3 Bradley Crowe                             CT3 Rodney Duke
                         CT3 Joseph Fejfar                                CT3 John Grant
                         CT3 Sidney Karnes                              CT3 Earl Kisler
                         CT3 Anthony Lamantia                      CT3 Ralph McClintock
                         QM3 Alvin Plucker                              CS3 Ralph Reed
                       CT3 Steven Robin                               CT3 John Shilling
                         CT3 Angelo Strano                              EN3 Darrel Wright
                         Steward Rogelio Abelon                    Steward Rizalino Aluague
                         FN Richard Arnold                              FN Richard Bame
                         FN Peter Bandera                               FN Howard Bland
                         SN Stephen Ellis                                  FN John Higgins
                         SN Robert Hill                                      FN Duane Hodges – KIA
                         SN Roy Maggard                                 SN Larry Marshall
                         FN Thomas Massie                             FN John Mitchell
                         FN Michael O’Bannon                        SN Earl Phares
                         SN Dale Rigby                                      SN Richard Rogala
                         SN Ramon Rosales                              SN Edward Russell
                         SN John Shingleton                            FN Norman Spear
                         FN Larry Strickland                             FN Steven Woelk

Civilian Oceanographers:

                         Harry Iredale                                      Dunnie Tuck

* Note all were authorized the Prisoner of War medal and all military crew members were authorized the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Combat Action Ribbon


Source: NSA.gov