North Korea to put Cold War prize on exhibit
PYONGYANG, North Korea — If there was ever any doubt about what happened to the only Navy ship held by a foreign government, North Korea has cleared it up. It’s in Pyongyang.
With a fresh coat of paint and a new home on the Pothong River, the USS Pueblo, a spy ship seized off North Korea’s coast, is expected to be put on exhibit this week as the centerpiece of a renovated war museum. It will commemorate what North Korea calls “Victory Day,” the 60th anniversary on Saturday of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War.
The ship is North Korea’s greatest Cold War prize. Its government hopes the Pueblo will serve as a potent symbol of how the country has stood up to the great power of the United States.
North Korea’s plan hangs over the heads of the crew members who have long campaigned for its return.
“It’s very disappointing to have it still there, and still being used as anti-American propaganda,” said Robert Chicca of Bonita, Calif., a Marine Corps sergeant who served as a Korean linguist on the Pueblo.
But the United States has made little effort to get it back. At times, outsiders weren’t even sure where North Korea was keeping it.
More than 40 years old and lightly armed so it wouldn’t look conspicuous or threatening as it carried out its intelligence missions, the USS Pueblo was easily captured on Jan. 23, 1968.
Surrounded by a half dozen enemy ships with MiG fighters providing air cover, the crew was unable to put up much of a fight. As they scrambled to destroy intelligence materials, one sailor was killed when the ship was strafed by machine gun fire and boarded. The remaining 82, including three injured, were taken prisoner.
The incident quickly escalated. The United States sent several aircraft carriers to the Sea of Japan and demanded the captives be released. North Korea responded by putting members of the crew before cameras to confess publicly. Only when the United States apologized were the hostages released — having endured 335 days of beatings and starvation.
In 2003, Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell reintroduced a resolution in Congress asking North Korea to return the ship. There has been no progress since — at least none that has been made public.