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.
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
Harry Iredale Dunnie Tuck