Living Conditions

The drawing shows Chief Kell entering his room in “The Barn,” destined to be his imprisonment cell for the next six weeks.

A single, uncovered light bulb hung in the middle of the room lighted day and night.  There were four low, wooden cots, a table and four chairs.  The walls were covered with bullet holes and dirt.  Many of the Pueblo crewmen wondered whether if previous prisoners had met their demise there.  There was about a half inch of space between each wooden floor boards in the poorly constructed and drafty building.  The windows were covered with glued-on newspaper.  For heat there was a barely functioning slightly hissing radiator that provided little heat.

 The Barn offered the Pueblo crew little, delay or primitive medical treatment for wounds they suffered during the seizure of their ship.  The crew was routinely interrogated, tortured and injured.  Wounds became infected and surgery was in some cases performed without anesthetics.

Horrible food and dirty drinking water caused dysentery and weight loss, affecting everyone.  The food was indescribably bad, including rotting fish that the crew nicknamed “sewer trout,” watery pig fat soup, parts of pig including fatty skin with hair still on it and occasional eyeball or tooth, rice, bread, maggots, dead flies and some goat milk.

The crew was only allowed to use the toilet twice per day.  The clothes they were wearing were the same clothes they had when they were taken captive – some still caked with blood from wounds and holes from shrapnel fragments.

The single luxury afforded the captives was cigarettes and matches.

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Note: The drawing is slightly in error in that a blanket is depicted on a crewman.  Blankets were not provided

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Approximately one week after their capture, the Pueblo crewmen were allowed to bathe for the first time since their capture.  Awaken in the middle of the night, they were led in groups to a small, rickety bus which transported them to a bath house located several miles away.  They walked from the back door of the “The Barn,” with their heads down and carrying newly issued toiletries and utensils in one hand and a small bar of soap, soap dish and a towel in the other hand.

While en route the guard in the bus flipped the safety of his AK-47 assault rifle on and off absent mindedly.  He realized that he did not know whether the safety was on or off.  He resolved the problem by pulling the trigger.  Fortunately for the roof of the bus, the safety was on and the guard displayed a relieved look.

The requirement to walk with their head bowed and fists clenched plagued them throughout their captivity.

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A harrowing experience with Genghis Khan (the Barber)

On their twelfth day of captivity, the Pueblo crewmen received their first shave.  A North Korean civilian barber left many faces bloodied and nicked as he hacked through many days of growth with a dull, straight razor.  Since some of the crewmen had beards because they had not shaved since leaving Sasebo.  This experience was not soon forgotten!

Any whimper or wincing by a crewmen was met with a slap to the head.  Later, in the next imprisonment, nicknamed the “Country Club,” one of the Pueblo crewmen, Policarpo “Peepee” Garcia gave the haircuts and shaves.  A standard barber chair also replaced the plain wooden chair.

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Keeping “The Barn” Clean

Cleaning “The Barn” was a daily routine for the men.  But the only cleaning supplies they had were rags, a bucket of cold water and a useless broom.  The broom was about three feet in length with a thin square handle and a couple of straws for the brush.  At best, this allowed the men to push the dirt from one place to another.  The wooden floor had a half inch space between each board so the men used matches to dig out the dirt between the boards.  Over time the broom became an object of entertainment as the crew would try to find humor in the midst of the adversity.

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The “Home” of the USS Pueblo crew from March 4, 1968 to their release on December 23, 1968

After about six weeks confined to the “The Barn,” the Pueblo crew moved to a new location, sardonically referred to as the “Country Club.”  Originally an army compound, the two major buildings were a three story structure that held the Pueblo crewmen and a two story structure where the two press conferences were held during the crew’s captivity.

Additionally, there were storage sheds and a single guard shack building next to a running track. Across the track were several flag poles and two cement lined square pits about three feet deep used to collect rain water.  Behind the storage sheds, at the far end of the field, was a small orchard and a propaganda billboard.  Also in the compound was a volleyball and basketball court with a small podium next to them.  Last, there was an eight-foot-high wooden wall and a short tunnel apparently used as an obstacle course.  Surrounding the entire compound was a fifteen-foot-high dirt mound.

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Note: In this drawing the nearby village and Pyongyang are depicted several miles away.

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By CAPT Ron Samuelson, USN, (ret.)