Remember the Maine, the Alamo, Pearl Harbor. But, for years the Pueblo Incident, as it was dubbed, has been buried under the carpet and consciousness of the American public.
I am a member of Post 3 of the American Legion, Hanford, CA. In our post is a diminutive man with a gray flowing beard and the Legion Motorcycle Riders nickname “Critter.” At every meeting there is a chair that is draped with a black cover reminding us of the POW's who remain unaccounted for. Critter is one who came back.
The USS Pueblo was hijacked by the North Koreans in 1968, the first U.S. Navy ship seized by a foreign military in over 150 years. One man died in the takeover, 82 crewmen were held captive, tortured and beaten for 335 days with no intervention from President Johnson or the Department of Defense.
Was the Pueblo a spy ship? Possibly. Captain Bucher claimed the ship was taken in International waters. Despite leading his men in spirited resistance during their captivity, Bucher was recommended for court martial upon his return.
The crew was held in two camps nicknamed The Barn and The Farm. They lived on turnips and two bathroom breaks a day. Remember the scene in Deer Hunters where the men are forced to play Russian Roulette? That's what they did to Bucher. When the Koreans filmed the crew for propaganda releases, they slyly flipped the camera the bird and used slang the Koreans wouldn't understand. Once this tactic was published in Time Magazine, conditions for the men got worse.
This was no “Hogan's Heroes” or “Stalag 13.” This was the real deal. It happened when Americans were protesting the war in Vietnam and the military was looked down upon by the people they were protecting.
Finally, on December 23, 1968, the men were walked across the DMZ to South Korea and freedom. For their sacrifice they received little recognition. But, Critter remembers. His presence reminds us, at every meeting, that there are those who are lost to us and those who lost much of themselves in an incident people are willing to forget.