Copyright © 2010 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
by Stu Russell
When life is controlled completely by a group of people who are less than kind, any interruption in the routine can be viewed as devastating. Unbeknownst to us the government of the DPRK was getting ready to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Army of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. This event would have considerable impact on our lives. We were their biggest trophy, since they won the Great Fatherland Liberation War when they drove the UN troops into the sea at Pusan in 1950, subsequent to their heroic retreat into China. A subject that was taboo.
Participation in the preparations came as a complete surprise. In that it represented change on our routine, our initial reaction was one of fear - here we go again. The North Koreans, as was there style, came to our room and briskly told Hayes and I that we must prepare. This is always difficult when you don't have anything to prepare with and you don't have any idea for what you are to prepare. Like a couple of jerks we looked each other over and communicated to the guards that we had prepared ourselves and were ready. We were then asked to follow two duty officers out of the room and start down that long dark hall.
Nothing good had ever come from this to date, so our feelings of fear and apprehension were heightened with each step we took or shook depending if you watched you knees as you went. We were escorted to a room similar in size to the one we shared. It was empty except for two wooden class-room chairs. The guards indicated that we were to sit down and face the door. We sat there about three feet apart wondering what new wrinkle in the program we were about to experience. After five or ten minutes and the door opened. In walked two men dressed in white coats. This was not an inspirational event, things were not looking up. They were followed into the room by two armed guards carrying a small table and two wash basins. The guys in the white coats pulled out two straight razors and other assorted barber supplies. So that was it, a haircut and shave. Maybe it was time for a steam job and a blow dry, or maybe they were getting us ready to go home. After the night excursion to bathe anything was possible.
My designated barber studied his razor and my face with an expression that only could have come from a man who lost all of his family in the Korean War and he figured that I was directly responsible. The only thing I did during the Korean War was collect a complete set of Korean War Bubble Gum Cards. That and the fact that I was in elementary school at the time did not seem to cut me any slack. I had personally killed his mother, father, aunts, uncles and assorted children and I was to pay for it. Then it dawned on me that the two guards with the ever present AK-47's were here to protect us from the drop-outs from barber college, not visa versa.
Any thoughts of going home evaporated as he lathered up my face and continued on to the sides and back of my head. I was getting more scared as he started shaving the lathered up portions of my head. I had seen enough prison camp movies to know shaving your head it is to remove any last vestiges of individuality. We were going to the mines of some suck place like that. The days of easy living were over. He continued his shave until a four by six inch patch of hair was left on the top of my head. I had never seen one of these before.
After the haircut Hayes and I were taken back to our room. I saw that he had what looked like a normal haircut. It was his opportunity to study the world's widest shortest Mohawk. I must say Hayes tried to control himself pretty well, but he finally lost it. Between the square rug on my head and the tension from our trip out of the room, we were both lost on spasms of laughter. Hayes at last figured it out. Before the capture I wore my hair in a flat top. It had been cut back in January before we left Japan, the barber was only trying to figure out what it must have look like when it was a fresh. As luck would have it we did not receive to many visitors and it quickly grew back. Luckily no picture exists from the event.