By Trent Rosser
In late 1992, a movie starring Steven Seagal came out called “Under Siege”. It was about a group of terrorists, (led by Tommy Lee Jones) that captures the USS Missouri. They start offloading the weapons as they plan on selling them. Unbeknownst to them is that the cook is an ex-Navy Seal and of course throughout the movie, many bad guys are killed, and the cook gets the girl. Made millions at the box office. Of course, it was not true, its all fiction…. Or is it?
On April 7, 1945 a ship, FP-344 was commissioned at New Orleans. It was designed as a freight and passenger ship, but the army redesigned it to be a freight and supply and became known as FS-344. It served as a Coast Guard-manned Army Vessel used to train civilians for the Army. It was finally placed out of service in 1954. On April 12, 1966 it was transferred to the United States Navy and on June 18, of 1966 it was renamed the USS Pueblo. She was supposed to be a supply ship but was soon was converted to an intelligence gathering ship, also known as a “Spy Ship”.
January 5, 1968 the USS Pueblo left the naval base at Yokosuka, Japan. She stopped at Sasebo, Japan and left there on January 11, 1968. Going northward through the Tsushima Strait and into the Sea of Japan she had specific orders. She was to intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet Navy in the Tsushima Strait and to collect signal and electronic intelligence from North Korea. This is where things went wrong. American intelligence states that the ship was in international waters while the North Koreans states that it was in their waters. 9 days after leaving port at Sasebo, Japan, at 5:30 pm a North Korean modified Soviet style submarine chaser passed within 4,000 yards of the USS. Pueblo. A couple of day later, two North Korean fishing trawlers, (named Rice Patty 1 and Rice Patty 2) passed within 30 yards. That same day, a North Korea unit made a failed assassination attempt on the South Korean President. The Crew of the USS Pueblo was not informed of the attempt on the South Korean President.
The next day, the USS Pueblo was approached by a submarine chaser again. This time though, her nationality was questioned. The crew responded by raising the U.S. flag. The North Korean vessel ordered the USS. Pueblo to stand down or be fired upon. Of course, they tried at first to outrun the quicker and more maneuverable North Korean submarine chaser. Numerous warning shots were fired, but the USS Pueblo did what they could do. On the horizon 3 more submarine boats appeared and joined in the chase. They were soon joined by 2 MIG 21 jet fighters. Another torpedo boat and another submarine chaser appeared on the horizon again. This brought the tally up to 4 torpedo boats, 2 submarine chasers and 2 MIG 21 fighter planes. With only two .50 caliber machine guns, they were outnumbered and excessively out gunned. The North Koreans tried to board the USS Pueblo, but she kept maneuvering to prevent this for over 2 hours. Finally, a submarine chaser opened fired with a 57 mm cannon killing one crewman on the USS Pueblo, while the smaller ships opened fired with machine guns. This, unfortunately, is when the USS. Pueblo finally signaled compliance. The crewmen started shredding sensitive material. Seventh fleet command were fully aware of the situation since the USS Pueblo was in constant contact with them. Any flight support was too far away to help. It would be at least 90 minutes before they would be able to get the proper aircraft in the air to help.
The USS Pueblo reluctantly followed the North Korean vessels but stopped short of the North Korean waters. She was again fired upon and another sailor was killed. The North Koreans finally boarded the USS Pueblo and the crew had their hands tied, blindfolded and beaten. When they were further into North Korean waters, the ship was boarded again with more higher-ranking officials. The USS Pueblo was taken to a port in Wossan, North Korea and the crew members were put into POW (Prisoner of War) camps.
The crew were regularly starved and beaten. They even had a mock firing squad for the commander of the USS Pueblo trying to get him to confess. A while later a 8 of the captive crew members were set up to pose for a propaganda photo, they convince the North Koreans that what they were doing with their middle finger was the Hawaiian sign for “Good Luck” while in fact, they were giving “the bird” to the treatment that they were receiving. A couple of weeks later, when the North Koreans found out what the hand signal really meant, the beating became more severe. The commander was told that if he did not sign and read a confession that his men would be lined up and shot in a firing squad, and he would be forced to watch. Commander Lloyd Butcher had written and signed the confession. Again, the North Koreans failed to catch the pun when he said “We paean the DPRK (North Korea). We paean their great leader Kim II Sung.” Only he announces “Paean” as “pee on”. After nearly a year of negotiations with American diplomats, the crew was released on December 23, 1968.
The USS Pueblo has been moved to the Taedong River and is now a tourist attraction in the capital city of Pyongyang, North Korea. In 2012 the ship was again moved to the Botong river. As of April 2015, the ship is moored and on display at the Pyongyang Victorious War Museum where visitors are allowed to board the ship and see the “Secret code room” and the crews personal artifacts. The USS Pueblo is still actively commissioned and will be to prevent seizure. It is the only U.S. Navy Vessel that is on the active roster that is being held captive.
Reading up on this I did come across some issues. Was there 1 or was there 2 crew members killed. Some articles are saying that only 1 while other saying that there were 2. I can not confirm either one at the time of this publication. Another thing why is the USS Pueblo commissioned just to prevent seizure? It is already seized! Now imagine this, if President Trump did talk to North Korea in the near future, can you see him at the stern of the USS Pueblo as he brings her home? Pulling up to port to take her place back on American waters. Yea, that could be cool. Or maybe he will just give Kim Jung- un the good ole Hawaiian sign for good luck! Either way, I believe that we need our ship back!