ANDERSONVILLE, Ga – Crew members of the USS Pueblo, denied prisoner-of-war status for years even though they were held captive by North Korea for 11 months in 1968, will be honored at the National Prisoner of War Museum this week.
The Pueblo's captain, retired Navy Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher, and other crew members will place a Pueblo plaque on a museum wall Wednesday.
"This is where their story is told and where their legacy is," said Fred Sanchez, chief ranger at the museum run by the National Park Service.
One crewman was killed and 13 were wounded when North Korean boats opened fire on the surveillance ship Jan. 23, 1968, while it was in international waters.
The North Koreans jailed the 81 surviving crew members for 11 months. They were tortured, endured public humiliation and resisted efforts by the North Koreans to use them for propaganda before they were released.
The Navy considered a court-martial for Bucher for letting the Pueblo fall into enemy hands without firing a shot and for failing to destroy much of the ship's classified material. He was never brought to trial.
At first, the crew also was denied POW status because the United States was not at war with North Korea. They were finally declared POWs in 1989 and awarded POW medals in 1990.
"I think any time you're involved in a tragic situation, if you have had an open mind, you benefit in the long run," said Bucher, now 73, of Poway, Calif. "In my own case, it helped me a lot to understand what life is all about. As long as you don't let it embitter you, it ends up being a plus for you."
F.C. Schumacher Jr. of St. Louis, leader of the USS Pueblo Veterans' Association, said he hopes the ceremony highlights "the real danger and risks we're putting our sailors and airmen at."
China's recent detention of 24 crew members from a U.S. Navy surveillance plane that made emergency landing on a Chinese island brought back vivid memories for the crew of the Pueblo, Schumacher said.
Both crews were gathering intelligence on the capabilities of foreign navies and both sought to destroy sensitive equipment just before their capture.
"The freedom Americans enjoy today was won by a lot of people out there doing this kind of stuff," said Schumacher.
The surviving Pueblo crew members have held periodic reunions since their release. They plan a September get-together in Pueblo, Colo.