YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Crew of Pueblo to Receive POW Medals 22 Years After Their Ship Was Captured


The crew of the Pueblo will receive medals recognizing them as prisoners of war 22 years after their Navy intelligence-gathering ship was captured by North Korea, it was announced Tuesday.

Pat Shelley, a San Diego spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the ceremony will correct a Pentagon administrator's ruling in 1988 that said the 82 crewmen of the spy ship failed to qualify as POWs even though they were held by North Korea for 11 months.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony May 5 at the San Diego County Administration Building.

In 1988, Congress authorized a POW medal for all prisoners of war between World War I and Vietnam. But the men of the Pueblo were not included in that legislation because they were ruled to have been detainees rather than POWs. Nicholas Mavroules (D-Mass.) authored a legislative amendment that qualified the crew for the POW medal.

Bob White, director of the San Diego County Veteran Services, said Congress authorized the medals for the Pueblo crew last month.

"It's a little late, but welcome," said former Lt. Ed Murphy of El Cajon, who was the ship's second in command.

The men will be honored at a full-dress ceremony, Shelley said.

The commander of the Pueblo, Lloyd M. (Pete) Bucher, said: "It shows to the crew that the country does care for them and does care about the sacrifices that they made."

"I'm gratified and very happy that they were able to get this thing through Congress, that the President signed it and that there will be a public recognition of the crew," Bucher from his home in Poway. "It goes a long way toward rectifying the injustices."

When it was captured on Jan. 23, 1968, the Pueblo was charting Soviet submarine movements off North Korea. Several days before the ship set out on its mission, the North Korean military had broadcast warnings that they would take action against any spy ships found off the coast, whether the ships had violated its 12-mile territorial limit or not. Even though the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff knew about the warnings, they did not act on them, and the Pueblo sailed for North Korea on a mission labeled "minimum risk."

The Pueblo, armed with only a pair of .50-caliber machine guns, was surrounded by North Korean navy vessels. Bucher tried to flee, but the ship's top speed was 13 knots and one of the Korean boats opened fire on it. One member of the crew was injured and died shortly afterward. Fourteen were wounded.

The ship was boarded. The captain and his crew were beaten in an attempt to extract confessions. Faced with the prospect that his crew would be shot, Bucher signed a confession that he said had violated North Korean territorial waters.

The crew was freed on Dec. 23, 1968, but North Korea did not return the ship. When Bucher returned, a Navy panel of inquiry recommended that he, Murphy and another officer be court-martialed. But John H. Chafee, then Secretary of the Navy, ruled against the court-martial, saying that Bucher and the officers had "suffered enough, and further punishment would not be justified."

Bucher, who pressed for the POW status for the Pueblo crew, said Tuesday that he never understood why the crew was excluded. "That was a legal decision. I don't know why. My position is that you have to find a way to include people, not put people out," he said. "There are people out there risking their lives, and not to include them is diametrically opposed to the purpose of leadership."

About 15 crew members are expected to attend the ceremony in San Diego, said White, adding that there will be other ceremonies around the country at different times to present medals to other crew members not living in the San Diego area.

Bucher said he "absolutely" plans to attend the ceremony. The retired commander said that he still receives about 40 Christmas cards from former crew members.

Los Angeles Times Articles