WASHINGTON – A senator sees it as a fair trade: a Korean battle flag captured in the 19th century for the USS Pueblo, taken in 1968.
Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., reintroduced a resolution Wednesday demanding that North Korea return the Pueblo, and he sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggesting she look into his proposed exchange.
"Since the USS Pueblo bears the name of the town of Pueblo, Colorado, many in our state want to see the vessel returned to its proper home," Allard wrote. "North Korea continues to hint at the possible return of the captured U.S. Navy ship, and I ask that you take action at this opportune time."
The Pueblo is the only active-duty U.S. warship in the hands of a foreign power. It was taken Jan. 23, 1968, after being sent defenseless on an intelligence-gathering mission off the North Korean coast.
Allard said Colorado veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars suggested exchanging the flag. It was captured from Korean Gen. Uh Je-yeon in an 1871 battle after American ships attempting to open Korea to trade invaded Kanghwa Island, outside Seoul. The flag is on display at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
The Pueblo "belongs to the United States Navy and we should pursue all possible options to return her to a rightful resting place," Allard said.
Navy records show the Pueblo was in international waters when it was captured, though the North Koreans insist it was inside the Korean coastal zone. One person was killed in an explosion during the attack, and 10 of the 82 surviving crewmen were wounded. All 82 were held 11 months before being sent to South Korea on Christmas Eve.
The North Koreans display the ship as a trophy and a monument to the rocky relationship between the two nations.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, and other U.S. officials were given a tour of the Pueblo during a visit this month to collect the remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War.
They were told that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, had decreed that the ship should be used for "an anti-American education."