Copyright © 2012 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
Naval Court of Inquiry
(CDR Bucher)
"This was simply a different type of ship and only a very few people in the Navy were aware of it. . . . I had a difficult time preparing for the type of operation I was scheduled to conduct. . . . there were many improvements that we were not permitted due to .... and time. . . . I did request a destruct system in a classified to the CNO. . . the request was turned down … the ship's steering was the most troublesome system. . . . I had lost steering as many as sixty times in two weeks. . . We did have a stability problem . . . one of the things that I recommended . . . funds and time prevented this . . . did not have a watertight door although I had requested one . . ."

The admirals shifted in their seats, glanced at the round clock over the door to their right, looked at Bucher and down again at the legal pads in front of them.

"…because the ship was from the Army no such {separate} [communications] system was available and I was not provided with. . . . I did feel strongly about this and included it in every one of my progress reports . . . it was not possible to steer the ship from after steering. … I had no collision alarm. I had requested it and it was turned down. . . . We left the yard in September without the problem of armament being solved. . . ." ‘ ‘ … the .50 caliber machine guns were unfamiliar to my gunner's mate, who had never had any formal training in their use. . . . One of the last things Admiral Johnson said to me was that I should in no way uncover those guns unless it was absolutely necessary, nor was I ever to provoke anyone by the use of those guns. . . . I was not confident in my ability to use [them], and there was no protection of any kind afforded to the man who would be standing there. . . . I was particularly not happy with having to move one gun to the other side of the ship when I wanted to use it. . . . I was in complete military command of the ship. . . . CINCPACFLT designated that the operational and management control of the research spaces be under the command and jurisdiction of Lieutenant Harris. . . ."

"We went to sea without any destruct device of an explosive nature. . . . I felt that we were being provided with too many nonessential classified publications. . . . I went through and pared that list down . . . we were required to carry the full load. . . . "  "and it was at this time that Ensign Harris was wounded. . . . Other explosions were going on all around the ship. Ensign Harris left his chair and went into the chart room and continued to keep the narrative there. . ."

And he went on and on like this in his oddly disengaged way, describing what must have been the most terrifying of moments as if he were merely reading from the box score of a Little League baseball game. The mind boggled at the image of this wounded captain looking over the shoulder of his wounded ensign, reading paragraphs as shells burst around them. He talked about blood, but one did not see it, smell it, feel it in that courtroom; the cries of surprise and anguish were layered over, suffocated by thick blankets of irrelevant detail.


"... the mattress cover itself is some six feet by three feet in width and length and of course designed to be slipped over a naval mattress and they are used in the Navy on enlisted bunks. . . " "…I ordered the ship ahead one-third and I put the rudder over to about five degrees . . . in order to follow him. I had decided at this time that I would offer no further resistance. . . . The incinerator just would not hold all the classified pubs that we had and the water depth did not permit their jettisoning over the side. . .was thinking about the destruction as it was going on; also I was somewhat angry at what was happening . ." ..." My feeling was we would be hopelessly riddled and perhaps sustain an inordinate number of casualties, which would interfere with the destruction of the classified matter." . . . "After you had stopped and turned to follow the SO1 back into port, was there any attempt on the part of you and your crew to set fire to the ship or to attempt to scuttle it?" "No sir," Bucher replied, "there was not." "Had you ever rehearsed the modified GQ?" Admiral Pratt asked. "No sir, I had not." "Didn't you think that this [earlier] attempt to board you was sufficient reason to cause you to start destructing immediately?"  "No, sir. . . . I didn't know what their intentions were at that time. . . . I did not consider that I had enough positive information as to what was going to happen eventually." "Your ringing up all stop," Admiral Bowen asked. "This was to do what?" "Was to comply with his orders to heave to, and to hope that the firing would stop." "Did you ever consider that you might have been attacked, and if so, what would you do?" "It never occurred to me. I had read nothing . . . nor had I received any briefings at any station along the way . . . that would indicate there was any danger of my ever coming under attack." "When you did come upon the situation where you were surrounded, what did you believe was your most important task?" ". . . My first task was to inform my superiors and my commanding officers and all the people that would need to know what was going on . . . secondly, to destroy the classified matter on the ship." Admiral Bowen nodded to Captain Newsome, who began reading questions from a sheet of yellow paper, "Did the ship suffer any casualties below the water line?"... "When you made your decision to surrender-was that your personal decision without the counsel of your other officers?"  "That was my decision." "Commander, one of the-certainly one of the most classified elements on this ship were the personnel, was that right?"  "Yes, sir." "So that in making the decision to surrender your ship . . . you also made the calculated decision that you would also surrender this additional classified element of your ship, the personnel?"  "Yes, sir, that is correct."

There was a short recess. At 2:47 on this third afternoon of the court of inquiry, Captain Newsome returned to the counsel table. His expression was grim. "Commander Bucher," he began, "it is my duty to apprise you that the facts revealed . . . render you to be a suspect of a violation of the United States Naval regulations, article 0730, which reads, 'The commanding officer shall not submit his command to be searched by any persons representing a foreign state; will not permit any of the personnel under his command to be removed . . . by such persons so long as he has the power to resist.' You are further advised that having been so informed of that offense, you do not have to make any statements with respect to it. And any statement that you make . . . thereafter [can] be used as evidence against you in a subsequent trial." "We obviously anticipated [this] situation," Miles Harvey was saying now; "in view of your warning, Commander Bucher persists in his desire to fully and completely tell this court of inquiry the details of the twenty-third of January and the events subsequent thereto." Harvey turned to his client: ". . . one question and one question only. Commander Bucher, at the time the North Koreans set foot on your ship, did you any longer have the power to resist?" "No, I did not," Bucher said.  "I think you can continue with your  testimony. You were at a point when the North Korean forces were on board the ship, and I believe that they had  entered the radio Spaces." Captain Newsome was saying.  Beads of sweat formed on Bucher's brow. He blinked  again and coughed nervously.  "That's correct," he said. ". . . my concern was the possibility of aircraft showing up, in which case I was going to grab the mike of the 1MC and announce as quickly as I could for my men to attempt to resume control of the ship. . . . the American ensign was still flying, although upon arrival in port, just before we tied up, they sent one of their enlisted men to the bridge and hauled [it] down . . . the crew was led off the ship and I continued to insist. . . ."  "Just prior to the time that the boarding party came aboard," Captain Newsome began, "you authorized Lieutenant Harris to send a message indicating that the destruction of classified material would be incomplete?" "Yes, sir, I did." "Did you know that you would not have time to complete destruction when you authorized the boarding party to come aboard the Pueblo?" "Yes, sir, I did." "When the boarding party came aboard, did it occur to you that they had a plan to seize the ship?" ". . . I still did not know what they intended to do. I considered it a strong probability that they were intending to capture the ship, but I was not completely convinced of that." Admiral Bowen stared at him. So did Admiral White. "You indicated that the publications in the mattress covers were not thrown over the side," Admiral White said. "Were they too big or did you just not have time to get to them?"  "No, sir. I do not know why they were not thrown over the side." "Commander Bucher," Harvey said, "was there any portion of the ship's allowance of classified material [as opposed to the research detachment's allowance] or any classified material for which the ship was responsible that had not been destroyed?" "To the best of my knowledge," Bucher replied, "all the classified material belonging to the ship, that I had signed for, had been destroyed."  "I have a point to make," Admiral Bowen said, very cooly, very precisely, as if he were spearing a butterfly. ". . . the commanding officer was ultimately responsible that all classified material on the ship was disposed of. Is that correct, Commander Bucher?"  "That is correct, Admiral. I was responsible for the entire ship. However, I did not know, nor was I privy to, the amount of material........."

There was a short recess. Tim Harris darted into the courtroom and dropped a note on Bucher's table.
"Dear Captain, we've made it this far together and we'll finish it together-Bucher's Bastards."
Bucher read it and looked up. But Harris was already gone.

"You can continue your testimony if you will," Captain Newsome was saying.

A hush fell over the courtroom as he began describing those first few hours in the Barn:  ". . . that 1 would be given two minutes to sign the document or I would be shot. I was told to kneel down on the floor and I knelt down right here"- his fingers clutched the wooden pointer-  "facing the wall. I knew that through human torture . . . it occurred to me that being shot . . . would be a blessing. So I knelt there on the floor and during the entire two minutes." He paused. Tears welled in his eyes. Captain Newsome approached the long green table and whispered to Admiral Bowen, who nodded. "Would the commander like a recess at this time?" Captain Newsome asked. Bucher gulped a glass of water. "Sir, I would rather get this over with right now if I may. I . . . 1 am sure I can do it........."  He wiped his forehead. "Sir, during the entire two minutes that I was laying there on the floor, I . . ." Another glass of water. A deep breath. ". . . I repeated over and over the phrase, 'I love you, Rose,' and thereby kept my mind off what was going to…" Bucher was trembling visibly now. A Navy doctor, Captain Ransom J. Arthur, rushed to his side. The admirals turned away. ,. . . happen . . . the colonel then said, 'Kill the sonovabitch' the gun was clicked . . . and the interpreter said, 'Well, it was a misfire' . . . and I knew damn well that it had been a game that they were playing with me . . . and he said, 'We will now begin to shoot your crew' . . . and I was not prepared to see my crew shot. . . . I was convinced that they were animals and I told them at that time, I said, 'I will sign the confession.' ..."

On March 10 Bucher returned to the witness stand. He mentioned his efforts to discredit his captors' propaganda. He called the North Koreans "cruel and brutal savages. . . . I requested better treatment for the crew," he said. "I could hear . . . their screams of pain, but . . ." Tears clouded his eyes. He blinked repeatedly and struggled to continue. "My overall personal evaluation [of the crew]," he said finally, "was that they represented the United States of America, the United States Navy, and their families in an outstanding manner."  He went on to cite forty-one of his men for their "cunningness and ability to fool the North Koreans" as well as for their "marked courage." ‘
Note sent to Captain Bucher by his crew during the Court of Inquiry.
23 January 1969
The following is a small sample of Commander Pete Bucher's testimony at the Court of Inquiry excerpted from Armbrister's "Matter of Accountability".
Admiral Frank L. Johnson
COMNAVFORJAPAN
Life magazine Feb. 7, 1969
Navy Witness Testimony     NAVY Secretary Findings
Pencil drawing made by unknown artist during  the Court of Inquiry.
Courtesy of former ABC- News reporter Bill Brannigan
"Captain, we made it this far together; we will finish it together! " s/Bucher's Bastards