I have always been interested in history ever since I was a young boy reading books at the public library in Oglesby, Illinois.
I would go on to minor in history at Eureka College (1985-1987) and later, when I came to Korea I really got to experience history covering Korean War Commemoration events as well as writing about other events like the 25th anniversary of the 1976 Panmunjom Ax Murder Incident.
Looking back, I would have to say that it was 1968 when I really became aware of history and what was happening around the world. There’s no doubt about, 1968 was a historical watershed year from the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy to the Democratic Convention in Chicago and Apollo 8’s flyby of the moon on Christmas Eve.
And then there was the USS Pueblo Incident.
It was forty years ago today that the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea after she had allegedly strayed into North Korean territorial waters. For the next eleven months the crew would be held captive until being released on December 23.
I vaguely remember hearing about this on the news back in January of 1968; then again with the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive in the early part of the year, it might have been hard for a ten-year-old to fully grasp what was happening in another Asian country halfway around the world.
However, it would be a few more years before I knew more about the incident. Thanks to a made-for-TV movie of the incident staring Hal Holbrook as Cmdr. Lloyd Boucher many people also learned of the incident and the “Hawaiian Good Luck Sign” the crew members flashed whenever propaganda photos were taken of them in captivity.
What I have always found interesting about the Pueblo incident was that right before she was captured, North Korean commandos attacked the Blue House in Seoul in an attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee. Additionally, the ship which is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang is still listed as a commissioned ship by the U.S. Navy.
My own personal connection with the incident, albeit a journalism one, occurred in the summer of 2000 when I wrote an article about the Joint Security Area (JSA) and the Bridge of No Return where Korean War POW’s were repatriated across as well as members of the USS Pueblo (both of which were mentioned in that article and another one I would write two years later).
And a few years later, my interest in the incident was renewed when I reviewed The Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy by Mitchell Lerner for my weekly book review for the Korea Times. I thought the book was okay in that the author wanted to explore the Soviet Union connection with the Pueblo incident.
Perhaps one day the USS Pueblo will be allowed to return home again.