Rough Going for a Brave Man that Said No
Communications Technician 3rd Class Kisler, refused to take part in the radio appeal for repatriation. At first, his North Korean hosts beat him with their first, sticks, and a shoe. After he agreed to take part, they continued to beat him. When he rejoined his shipmates later that afternoon, his face was badly bruised and swollen. His torso and legs were also bruised from the beating.
Honor Your Country’s Flag
Normally, the North Koreans did not fly their flag in the compound. However, during the international press conference the North Koreans flag was flown from one of the flag poles in front of the building where the Pueblo crew was confined. One morning the hoisting lines became entangled and two North Koreans soldiers were getting frustrated. While they wrestled with the lines, the flag laid on the ground where they walked on it without regard. Finally, the soldiers gave up and the flag was never raised.
“Hell Week:” Brutal and Crowded
In a propaganda photo some of the Pueblo crewmen extended their middle finder, telling the North Koreans that it was a Hawaiian good luck sign. The photograph was published in the October 16, 1968 issue of Time Magazine. By early December, the North Koreans figured out what it really meant and took revenge on the Pueblo crewmen in 10 days of rage that involved beatings and injuries that were more severe than at any time during the previous 10 months of captivity. The crew referred to this period as “Hell Week.” Had it not been for progress in the negotiations for the release of the Pueblo crewmen, hell week might have continued indefinitely.
During this period four other men, along with each man’s night stand, were moved into Jim Kell’s room, thus increasing the count to a dozen men crowded into the already crowded room. The table in the room was removed. Six beds were aligned together on each side of the room. At the end of each bed was a night stand and chair.
The two lights in the room were kept on 24 hours a day. These were large white globe that encased bulb. There placement is shown in the drawing.
A Pain in the Neck
During “Hell Week” the men were required to sit at attention while gazing at a propaganda book held in one hand. There other hand was placed in their lap or used for smoking. At all times their head was bowed down, a posture that soon became exceeding painful. Talking was not allowed. Although the men were allowed to smoke cigarettes freely, it was not a pleasure. In fact, the guards ordered the men to light-up whenever the guard entered the room. The window was kept shut and the smoke became thick and pungent. In the first four days of “Hell Week” the 12 men in Jim Kell’s crowded room smoked sixty packages of cigarettes.
Harassment and being hit by the guards was frequent. Going to the toilet, especially at night, was a brutal experience as the guards would hit and beat the individuals in the passageways.
Unbeknownst to the Pueblo crew, negotiations for their release were reaching their conclusion. As a result, Hell Week ended abruptly the beatings stopped and the crew were being treated for their injuries. The North Koreans were obviously preparing them for media coverage that would accompany their release.
The Bridge to Freedom
This is approximately what the Pueblo crewmen saw as they walked in single file, several yards apart, across “Freedom Bridge” toward the United Nations side. A heavy-set North Korean officer checked their name as they shouted their identity as each man disembarked the buses which had brought them to the North Korean side of the bridge. They walked with their eyes looking straight ahead, having been warned that they would be shot in the back if they did otherwise. On the U.N. side they were greeted by American officers. As a vivid reminder that the U.S. Navy was truly welcoming them back by the blue and gold of a Naval officer’s uniform, LCDR Paul Brooks did not to wear his overcoat in spite of the bitter cold. LCDR Paul Brooks had been the highest ranking navy officer on the U.N. negotiating team. Higher ranking officers were also present but were not allowed on the bridge.
CDR Lloyd Bucher was the first across the bridge. After declining an offered cigarette he remarked that his feet were cold and was given a blanket to stand on. All the men, in fact, suffered from cold feet as they were wearing North Korean Gym shoes. Very few fit properly since all 82 pairs were the same size.
The drawing is based on the “Home Move” taking on the bridge by one of the U.S. Negotiators and viewed by the artist. It is the only movie of its kind, since all photography was banned and the press was required to remain on the heights above the bridge. Chief Jim Kell, upon seeing the artist’s drawing, said the North Korean officer with the check-off list was on the right side, vice left as in the drawing. Also, he was fatter.
The rough-hewn casket containing the remains of Fireman Duane Hodges was unceremoniously tossed-out onto the bridge where it landed. Americans retrieved it, draped it with a flag, and removed it.
By CAPT Ron Samuelson, USN, (ret.)
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