Copyright © 2010 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
by Stu Russell
Hayes and I had been in the room for about three weeks. Other than hearing the screams of people being beaten, things were pretty quiet. The feeling of horror now wore like an old coat. Somehow we had gotten used to being scared shitless as a normal course of events. At about 9:30 one evening Fetch came to our room and told us to prepare. This duty officer was the first one that Hayes and I had given a nick name to. Fetch was one of the few who had a human side.
We found out later that everyone else was making up names for the KORCOMS, since they would never tell us who they were. Eventually they all were given names and it was a point of pride with each room to have your name accepted. Some of them were silver Lips, a translator; Jack Warner, one of the many photographers; Good Guy, later changed to Ex-Good Guy and shortened to EGG; the Bear, the Robot; Queer; Odd-Job; Bloke (he learned his English from listening to the BBC while stationed in Egypt and called us "Blokes" all the time;) and so on. This little pastime would come back to haunt us.
Hayes and I had prepared and stood by the door to go out. Being asked to do something always made us nervous and when it came a few minutes before we could hit the sack only made it worse. At last a guard opened the door and we were lead out into the hall. The whole crew was being assembled. Like blue ghosts we began to form into a group. There was not talking, only the sound of padded shoes shuffling on the floor. The guards bark orders.
Once we were in some semblance of order, the Colonel appeared and grandly announced that we were going to be given the chance to get some exercise. I don't think anyone bought his story. Why would they take us out at night to exercise us? One of their doctors was present, maybe this would be some kind of evaluation of our health.
Later we were to learn that a photo recon group from a 5th Air force Base from Okinawa and had been overflying the whole of North Korea in an attempt to locate us. That explained why we were going out at night.
We walked down the stairs that I had carried Crandell up our first night in the building and out into the night. Before we were lead away from the building we were instructed to keep our heads down as an expression of our shame for spying on the peace loving people of Korea. We walked in two files between rows of buildings. There were no lights visible any where, by turning my head a little to the sky I was able to make out the illumination in the sky made by the stars. Seeing them seemed to reaffirm that there was more to life than this madness that we were living. There was a slight breeze that blew fresh crisp cold air on our faces.
Suddenly the starlight was cut off, we were in a tunnel. As we shuffled forward I could make out starlight and we were headed for it. I wished I had a phone, I would have called President Johnson and told him I found the light at the end of the tunnel. As we passed through the tunnel a disembodied voice told us we could lift our heads and prepare for our exercise by warming up, made sense to me.
As I looked up the stars formed a perfect bowl of light over us. We were in a stadium! There were racks of darkened spot lights above the rim of the structure. My imagination filled in the rest, there were thousands of Koreans in their seats. Soon the Master of Ceremonies, Kim himself would start the festivities, the lights would come on and we would suffer some horrible, painful and shameful death. The obsession with my own death was beginning to get to me. But no, death was not our ticket out this night. we were actually going to exercise.
Charlie Law was chosen to lead the exercise ritual. He went thought the standard high school exercises. In the mass confusion of dark robed figures milling about in the dark I ran into Hill and Lamantia to find out what was going on with them. Yes, it was true, they were in North Korea too. After a few more minutes of exercise, instructions we made for us to prepare to return to our rooms. We retraced our steps, Hayes and I paired off when we reached our room.
That's when the big shock came. The stench caused by our rotting feet was enough to make us puke. Ours was not the only room that had the same experience. We learned later the Doc had asked the North Koreans for extra socks so we could clean our feet. This was the first of many times that Doc would stand up to the North Koreans and attempt to get health services for us. It never dawned on the KORCOM's that changing your socks every three weeks wasn't often enough.