Ahead of President Donald Trump’s next visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, a Colorado congressman wants a lingering topic addressed.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton says Pueblo wants its boat back.
The USS Pueblo, an antenna-laden spy ship, was seized by North Korea in 1968 in a raid that killed one of the crew, Petty Officer Duane Hodges, and saw the rest interned in North Korean POW camps. Since then, the 177-foot Pueblo has been docked in Pyongyang, where the Communist government has used it as a tourist attraction.
Tipton, whose district includes Pueblo, wants Trump to bring the Navy’s Pueblo home.
“The Pueblo is the U.S. Navy’s only commissioned vessel that remains in captivity,” Tipton wrote in a letter to Trump. “I appreciate any dedicated efforts by your Administration to ensuring that the Pueblo is returned home with the dignity and respect it deserves.”
The Pueblo incident is one of America’s darker chapters in the Cold War. The ship, a World War II freighter rebuilt for spying, was at work in international waters, listening to radio traffic from Soviet and North Korean military units, when it was accosted by North Korean gunboats and aircraft.
The Pueblo was far from a warship. Armed with just a few machine guns, it stood little chance against her captors.
“Two North Korean junior officers armed with automatic pistols led eight-to-ten riflemen with fixed bayonets on board of the vessel, and a short while later a colonel led a second boarding party and one of their pilots took the helm,” the Navy’s history of the incident says.
It was sailed to North Korea, even as the Navy sortied four aircraft carriers in a show of force that some feared would trigger a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union.
The capture also caused chaos across the Pacific fleet, with admirals fearing U.S. secret codes and spying technology had been compromised.
North Korea refused diplomatic overtures after the craft was captured. And President Lyndon Johnson, already embroiled in Vietnam, had little appetite for a new war over the small ship.
The ship’s sailors endured long days of torture and interrogation as American leaders negotiated for their freedom.
“The 82 Pueblo survivors endured 11 months of cruel captivity before being released,” the Navy’s official history says.
The sailors didn’t give up their fight against the North Koreans. Forced to pose for propaganda photos, they gave the camera the finger, while explaining to guards that it was an American gesture for peace.
When the ruse was discovered, the crew faced beatings.
The Pueblo was eventually brought to the North Korean capital, where it has been held up as a symbol of that nation’s strength in the face of American aggression.
Now, as Trump continues his unprecedented direct talks with Kim, Tipton says the president should include the ship’s status in nuclear talks. “It is important that the actions of North Korea on that day in January 1968 and the sacrifice of Petty Officer Duane Hodges are never forgotten,” Tipton wrote.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx