I Confess, well... sort of!
by Ralph McClintock
Life in communist North Korea is built upon the principals of self-criticism, confession and repentance. A person who admits to not working hard enough in his job manufacturing razor blades must recognize his crime against the state. The farmer who holds back on the amount of rice he produces for the state is forced to endure both physical abuse and the humiliation of group censure and shunning until such time as he is deemed to be sufficiently repentful for his crime. He must admit that he is guilty of the offense. He must prove he is sufficiently sincere in his apology for committing the crime. And finally, he must assure the state that he will never again commit the crime he is supposedly guilty of. The principle of the 3-As, admit, apologize and assure, would form the basis for the North Korean attempts to extract confessions from the crew of PUEBLO.
Immediately upon arrival at the first detention building in Pyongyang, the North Koreans began their assault on the crew to admit to crimes. Men were taken, in what seemed random order, and interrogated about their jobs on PUEBLO, why the PUEBLO had spied on the DPRK and intruded into its territorial waters. Each was told that he must admit his crimes if he hoped to live and someday see his family again. Fists, gun butts and kicks were accompanied with screams of "you will be shot as spies." The physical and mental brutality continued 24 hours a day as men were taken to and from interrogation rooms. Back in their cells, each man was given a pencil and paper and told to write out a personal life history. Again, the men were told they would be shot as a spies if they did not comply. The US Military Code of Conduct, understood by every serviceman, specified that only name, rank and serial number were to be given to an enemy. A typical personal history returned to the North Koreans would simply state: John Doe, Petty Officer 3rd Class, service number 694-00-98, Job - Line Handler. After collecting the histories, the Koreans discovered they had captured a US Navy ship made up entirely of cooks and a deck force crew. Like all US Navy ships, PUEBLO carried the personnel files of every crew-member on board. The North Koreans had captured these files intact.
This first personal history was deemed not truthful, it was not sincere. "You will be severely punished!"
Captain Bucher was interrogated and beaten from the beginning. Though wounded from the attack, like the other wounded, he would receive no medical treatment. The Koreans wanted an admission that PUEBLO had intruded into DPRK waters and that he was a spy sent by the criminal Johnson administration to instigate a new Korean War. The North Koreans presented Bucher with a prepared document that stated PUEBLO had intruded into DPRK waters on many occasions on spy missions. They promised Bucher that if he signed the paper they would treat his wounded crew. Beaten to semi-consciousness a number of times he steadfastly maintained PUEBLO was operating in International waters. He kept insisting that his captors treat his wounded men and that they let him see his crew. The North Koreans threatened to kill Bucher with a shot to the head. On his knees, prepared to die, Bucher heard the hammer snap, but nothing happened, he was still alive. The officer in charge remarked "misfire, heís not worth a bullet, beat him to death." Still he would not confess to the North Korean falsehood. On the second night, after another beating, he was driven in darkness to a new location. In a dark and dirty basement he was shown a body hanging on a wall. The body, purported to be a South Korean spy, was alive but hardly recognizable. The head was badly swollen, one eye hung out of itís socket and broken protruding bones were evident. The Korean Senior Colonel in charge said "this is how we treat spies." Returned to his cell, the Koreans now said if he did not admit his crimes they would begin shooting his crew, starting with the youngest member until he signed. The youngest member was brought into Bucherís cell. Broken and beaten, Bucher finally said he would sign their document.
In addition to signing the document, the North Koreans wanted the event to be filmed and tape recorded for broadcast over Pyongyang radio. Before the cameras, Bucher appeared shattered and under great strain. He very slowly began to read the paper written by the North Koreans. His language was stilted and the style was not something an American would write. As Bucher read the document he mispronounced common words. He ran the sentences together so they made no sense. Yes, it was a confession, an admission to crimes committed against the "peace loving Korean people." It was against the code of conduct, something Bucher strongly believed in. But, he had started a process that would come to plague the North Koreans for the next 11 months. Their misunderstandings of the English language would be their devil. The double entendre, mispronunciations, creative emphasis, deliberate misspellings, the wanton misuse of sentence structure and the American sense of humor, present in the face of death, would confound them. Bucher had found his weapon. It was a weapon he could use. It was a weapon he could pass on to his men. It was a weapon that along with the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign would become a rally cry among his crew. Captain Bucherís final confession in North Korea would come to epitomize this weapon.
JIm Sheppard & Ralph McClintock
"See, 5 Aces .. I win!"
(staged NK propaganda photo)
Copyright © 2018 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
"Final, Final, Final, Final confession....!"