It is fitting that the crew of a ship captured around the time President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an order requiring all federal computers to support ASCII character encoding has its own website. In its very first paragraph, the site points out that the United States has never retaliated for the seizure of the ship, a fact that “guarantees the Pueblo’s place in history as a watershed event in our nation’s conscience.”
That is true. The men of the Pueblo — one died in the incident, far fewer than the 34 who perished on the USS Liberty, attacked by the Israelis seven months earlier — eventually were given medals as prisoners of war. That was only after they suffered 335 days of captivity and a daunting diet that consisted mostly of turnips. A band played “The Lonely Bull” and Gov. Ronald Reagan of California greeted the crew members when they returned.
So did a naval court of inquiry. In what columnist James Reston described at the time as “a medieval trial, which exposed his agony and broke his spirit,” Bucher was charged with failing to resist the intruders, for allowing the North Koreans to search his ship, for insufficiently destroying classified information and with following his North Korean captors into port, among other departures from naval law and custom. Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee, later a distinguished Republican senator from Rhode Island, dismissed the charges, noting that the crew had been abused and tortured.
“I am convinced,” Chafee said, “that neither individual discipline, nor the state of discipline or morale in the Navy, nor any other interest requires further legal proceedings with respect to any personnel involved in the Pueblo incident.”
Chafee, who died in 1999, believed the men of the Pueblo had suffered enough. Some are still suffering.
The 67 who remain alive would like to see the ship — the only commissioned Navy vehicle in captivity — back home, maybe in San Diego, maybe in Pueblo, Colo., the city and county for which the onetime light-cargo ship was named in 1944.