In January 1968, the Navy Intelligence Ship Pueblo, disguised as a research vessel, was set upon by warships of North Korea. Puelo’s 83-member crew was captured on January 23rd, 1968, in international waters off the Woson coast.
Video Credits: KPBS Public Media
One crew member was killed in the attack, while the others were kept hostage and tortured for 11 months. North Korea also seized all top-secret documents from the vessel.
The ship’s crew reunited on Thursday in San Diego to commemorate 55 years since North Korea attacked and captured the vessel.
James Kell, retired Navy Chief living in Chula Vista who was then Pueblo’s officer-in-charge of special operations during that mission, said that he lived due to his unwavering faith.
He said, “Three things: faith in God, in my country and my Navy,” Kell said. “I knew those three things; if I had those, I would be OK. I was determined. They could take my body. They were never going to get my mind.”
However, the U.S negotiated the return of the ship’s crew, and on December 24, 1968, they came to San Diego and were welcomed like heroes.
Pueblo’s crew and their families are eligible for compensation under the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund established by Congress in 2015.
It gives payouts to those affected by attacks, including the Iran Hostage Crisis, the 1983 Beirut embassy bombing, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing and the attacks of September. 11, 2001.
Chris Nagel, a retired Air Force master sergeant from Ventura County, also came to the Pueblo reunion to express his solidarity with those impacted by terrorism.
He recounted how a truck bomb blasted a tower housing the U.S. troops while he was stationed in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 1996. He said he was in his room when the bomb exploded. He ran outside to assist the injured, and he is still haunted by the memories of that day.
Nagel said, “With this coalition that we have here today … I’m a voice for them,” Nagel said. “That’s what I’m here for. They promised that they would take care of us, and we have not been taken care of.”
Although courts in the U.S have passed their judgements against countries involved in these attacks, the victims’ fund is depleted, and Pueblo crew members and their families have received a fraction of what was awarded to them.
Kell said, “For me, it’s closure because those guys did us wrong. I’ll never recover from that, and the money is immaterial to me. But it helps my kids and other people — my sister and my brother — who are recipients of the fund also.”
The Pueblo reunion will continue on Saturday, and a documentary of the ordeal is screening at the Handlery Hotel in Mission Valley.
The Pueblo is on display in Pyongyang, North Korea and is the only U.S. Navy Ship in captivity.
References: Navytimes, kpbs.org, news.yahoo
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