REMEMBER THE PUEBLO –
Incident Report -- The First Week
(Facts and dialog derived from a recording made on January 30, 1968, at 1:30 PM, and a daily log that was kept by Jean.)
It began quietly enough on Tuesday, January 23, 1968.
As a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR.) in the Navy, I was Project Director of the Integrated Flagship Data System, a research and development computer system for the U. S. Navy. My office was many feet underground at the very tip of Point Loma on the most seaward point of San Diego, California. We were a super-secret site hundreds of feet under the Point Loma Lighthouse, in a well-guarded bunker that had hidden the emplacement of guns for the defense of the coast during World War Two.
My wife Jean called my office and said, "The Pueblo has been captured."
At first I did not remember who or what the Pueblo was, and the fact it had been captured did not mean much to me. The Pueblo could have been a college and its students could have captured it. That was not an unusual scenario in that era.
"Why is that important?" I asked.
"Because the Pueblo is Pete’s ship and she has been seized on the high seas by the North Koreans," Jean said.
Even with that revelation, it still took a few seconds to put it together. The Pueblo must be an intelligence ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo (AGER-2) and Pete must be Commander Lloyd. M. Bucher, my old Executive Officer on the submarine U.S.S. Ronquil (SS-396). Pete and I had served together in 1962 and 1963 when Pete was the Executive Officer, the number two officer, and I was the Operations Officer, the third officer.
"Rose must still be at the Bahia Motel, room 167", Jean said. I remembered that we had spoken to Rose several weeks before, and that she was staying at the Bahia Motel awaiting Pete's return to port in Yokosuka, Japan, so that she and her children, two boys, could join Pete.
"I'll get there as quickly as I can," I said. "I have to give a presentation to the Department Heads in thirty minutes. I'll cut it short."
I called Rose Bucher at the motel. It was almost 9:30 AM. She was already being besieged on the phone and by reporters at her door and had asked the telephone operators at the motel to screen her calls carefully. Somehow I made the operator understand that I was not another member of the press but a personal friend who wanted to offer my assistance in any way possible. When the operator put me through, Rose asked me to come over as quickly as possible.
Rose was, and still is today, a slight, lovely, and thoroughly naive lady. She is one of those people who does not have a mean bone in her body, and desperately wishes that no one else had one either. She is unwaveringly religious in her Catholic faith, and is a very private person. No one could have been more ill-prepared to face publicity, but she had a straight backbone and determination. She would need both, and her very strong Catholic faith. I fully believe her faith pulled her through the problems that she was to face.
My formal presentation before the assembled Department Heads of the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center (now the Naval Oceans Systems Command) must have surprised everyone assembled because I was not known for brevity or seriousness. It's just that when an old shipmate was the captive of the most notorious torturers on the face of this earth, frivolity was not called for, but brevity was. The report took only twenty minutes of a scheduled hour.
I remember driving as fast as I could to the Bahia Motel. When I arrived I saw two reporters, one was a Mr. Stone, in front of the motel room door. I was in uniform so they made way for me as I pushed through. Another ex-shipmate of Pete's, Bob Smith, and his wife Frankie, let me in the room. Bob was handling the calls and with the single exception of some rude jerk from CBS News in New York, Bob said things were running smoothly. Bob must not have wanted to feel the heat of being associated with the person who, as some soon put it, surrendered the first U.S. Navy ship since the War of 1807. What must be remembered is that the surrender of the Pueblo -- or more accurately its seizure, was not of a naval warship but rather an auxiliary ship much like a tug, or a freighter, or an oiler...
After that first day, we never saw Bob Smith again. He was the first casualty of a contagious case of the "carefulness syndrome." Prudence dictated that Naval Officers give this situation a wide berth.
I will forever remember the words I used to greet Rose: "Honey, don't worry. The national honor of the United States will not permit this to continue for more than 24 hours."
Wrong again, Hemphill. I was knowledgeable about current events, but I was naive. Very naive. In fewer than six months I would be surreptitiously recording telephone calls between others and myself, and would have scuttled my promising Naval career. It was quite a learning experience.
Rose heard about her husband's capture on the Today Show on NBC. There was a special "break-in" announcement made at 8:07 AM. Of course she was stunned, but she was not crying. How the press found out where she was staying is somewhat of a mystery, but they preceded the official Navy announcement or visit at every turn for a year.
This first breach of protocol, which would have called for the Navy to inform the wives before announcing the seizure to the public, was understandable – there is no way to keep track of where all the wives of Naval Officers are at any given time.
Reporters were constantly ringing the doorbell and the telephone, being understanding but insistent. (Once, just a few days into the odyssey, there was a knock on the door after midnight. When one of the Bucher teenage boys sleepily answered the door, clad only in his under shorts, a flash bulb went off in his face.)
"How can I help?" I asked Rose.
"Take care of the press," she said simply. "Walter Cronkite is right through that door."
I expected to be relieved of that duty by an official Navy representative at any second, so I immediately agreed to do whatever she asked.
Wrong again, Hemphill. It was a day and a half before any "official Navy representative" ever set foot in the motel room. When he did appear, he immediately fouled up Rose, me, and the U. S. Navy. Washington was to replace him faster than he could have believed possible for a career Navy Captain.
The three of us, Rose, my wife Jean, and I were not prepared by experience or attitude to lead a national public relations campaign. Neither were we prepared for political "dirty tricks," but we protected ourselves as best we could. Fortunately, both for the writing of this book and for the protection it provided at the time, within a few days we began keeping a diary. Within two weeks we were putting our comments on audio tape. Within a month we were recording all important telephone conversations.
The intrigue was uncomfortable for the three of us. None of us were prepared for the problems we were to face, but we all knew that Pete and the crew were undergoing daily physical torture, and we were all driven by that knowledge. Our diaries and recordings protected us from those who claimed we said certain things, and it also gave us proof that people had said certain things that they subsequently denied.
Those tapes and writings are very important to the writing of this book, but they were never done for that purpose. If they had been, this book would have been written earlier when the subject had more commercial appeal. It is written now "For the Record…" because excellent books are being written on the subject and there is still more than can be written if the facts are available to writers.
If Rose was the least prepared person to face the press, she more than grew into the role. She never grew comfortable, but she did grow much more competent in public.
If Rose was the least-prepared person to face the press, no person could have been better prepared to face the North Koreans than Pete Bucher. Big, aggressive, bright, he was prepared by personality and his submarine training for independent thought and action. If scouting Pete for football, I would have written: "Hitter. He comes to play. Strong upper-body strength. Looks for people to hit. Parties too much."
Prior to the capture incident, Pete knew, because of his submarine background, that preparation for possible attack was necessary. He asked for, and when refused, tried to steal, explosives for self-destruction. He knew the potential for attack on his ship, although he had been promised and had expected immediate assistance in the case of an attack. It was an empty promise, as we shall learn.
There is nothing like having the press on your doorstep to give you a sense of an important news story. It was not our story – it was Pete's story, but for a year we would not know Pete's story. We were almost the only story available on the Pueblo, so we were "it."
The motel was obviously not going to be a satisfactory place for Rose to sleep. The news media would knock or telephone at any hour. Jean and I decided to offer sanctuary at our home a few miles away. While that did not stop phone calls, it limited the calls to those shipmates around the world who guessed where Rose might be if in trouble in San Diego, and to official Navy calls because we kept the Navy informed of our every move. Those phone calls from old friends and shipmates sustained Rose in the first few days, because she was getting tired, fast. She was to get a lot more tired, more frustrated, and much angrier.
In the beginning, Rose was just a little bit scared, and we all expected an immediate solution. I called my boss at the Laboratory, Commander Vern Wear, developer of the Data System, and told him that I might need a little time to help Rose. When he was promoted I was elevated from a computer systems analyst on the project to the Director. Commander Wear told me to do what I had to do, and that he would cover his job and mine. He had no idea, and neither did I, that the covering he would have to do for me would entail a solid year, but since the Project had been his baby for years he was fully capable of handling his job and mine. It was a good thing. He never complained, but kept in constant touch with my plans and provided the encouragement necessary to get the job completed. Partially this was to help Bucher as a fellow sailor, and partially this was because anything that embarrassed President Lyndon Baines Johnson was just what he wanted in this world. Commander Wear was a staunch Republican.
It was obvious from the start that there was going to be trouble. The failure of the Eleventh Naval District Public Relations Officer to take charge was the first problem, and it caused me to be responsible for the family public relations for the next year.
Capt. "Hap" Hill, the Public Relations Officer for the Eleventh Naval District, called at about 11:30 AM. He said he was at the Yacht Harbor Inn, that he had just heard of the capture, and that, regrettably, he would not be available until after his scheduled golf date that afternoon. Helping Rose was obviously not high on the good Captain's priority list, but I was a lowly Lieutenant Commander and in no position to complain.
I went with Rose to the Mission Valley Junior High School to tell Pete's 13-year-old son Mike what had happened to his father. We then went to tell Mark (15) at the local high school. At both schools I went to the main office and explained events to the Principal, or, in the case of the junior high, the Vice-Principal. I asked for permission to take the boys home. In each case I explained to the administrators what had happened and asked whether there were any special examinations the boys needed to stay for. Each administrator said "no," and I was able to leave with the boys.
Neither boy comprehended, even vaguely, what was going on. In fact, on the first night Mike and Mark asked if they could go surfing when Rose, Jean and I went back to the motel. We said yes, trying to make their lives as normal as possible. At about 7:30 we went back to our home. That evening Rose did not sleep well and the boys still did not understand. We got two phone calls from former friends and shipmates the first night, one from Jim Jobe in Yokosuka, Japan, and one from a Cdr. Scott in Japan.
WEDNESDAY January 24, 1968
At 9:30 AM we got a call from Capt. Hill. He said that if there was anything he could do, please let him know, but that he would be unavailable and on the golf course that afternoon. It wasn’t until after the boys got home from school that we saw our first of Capt. "Hap" Hill. He was the first uniformed representative we had seen from the United States Navy.
The phone calls continued from every news service and many independent reporters. On this second evening we first saw Mr. Pauilo of Life Magazine. We refused him a photo opportunity because Rose simply was not prepared.
That evening, as Capt. Hill was arriving about 5 PM, we received a phone call from a Cdr. Kerchew (phonetic) of the office of the Chief of Naval Information (CHINFO). After Rose had spoken with him for a few minutes, she handed me the phone and asked me to find out what he really wanted. What he said was that even though it was the norm for captives' wives to be advised not to talk to the press, in this case his opinion was that Rose should, if she was capable, give interviews. He said he was the Case Officer representing Capt. Lumpkin and Admiral Miller. I told Cdr. Kerchew that Rose was capable, but that it was my opinion that she was best at, and more prepared for, individual interviews. He said he believed that the best interest of the crew would be best served by openness and candor. In the background, Capt. Hill expressed that he personally disagreed, that this case was no different than any other Prisoner Of War case, and that silence was the best policy. Rose was visibly nervous and distressed at the volume of phone calls and the number of reporters outside the door.
After the conversation with Cdr. Kerchew, Capt. Hill said that even though CHINFO may have encouraged interviews in this case, the last sentence of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) official notification of POWs always advised the captives' wives not to make comments to the press. CHINFO called back again. During that conversation I asked about a potential conflict with the coming notification from BUPERS. Cdr. Kerchew said that the BUPERS notification, called a CACO message, had not yet been sent to the Pueblo families and that BUPERS was aware that CHINFO was asking Mrs. Bucher to talk. The newspapers, TV, and radio were already interviewing every person who had ever known Pete, including his high school chums. There were also news reports, absolutely false, that Rose was being "kept under wraps" by the Navy. Kerchew also asked me if Rose would grant an "exclusive interview" to Time Magazine, which alone had promised a "Cover Story." Kerchew said that a cover story in Time would keep the public attention on the plight of the crew.
I called BUPERS and talked to the duty officer, a Cdr. Jim Jones (who coincidentally knew Pete). Cdr. Jones assured me that BUPERS was indeed in concurrence with CHINFO on the desirability of Rose talking, if she was able, in order to gain sympathy and public support for the predicament of the crew.
Again, Capt. Hill disagreed. He said that if there was going to be public comment, there should be one massive press conference. I argued that Rose already had given several one-on-one interviews – to Sam Rinaker from local Channel 10, Harold Keen of Channel 8, and a Mr. Stone – and that Rose was comfortable with a one-on-one interview. Capt. Hill argued that one-on-one interviews showed favoritism and were limited to the questions that one person could imagine, while press conferences gave everyone the same information at the same time. I argued that Rose was not a sophisticated media person and that in a news conference the face of the interviewer was not shown, only the face of the interviewee, and that the news people anonymously vied to ask the most embarrassing question. I argued that in one-on-one interviews the newsman tried to build some personal rapport and did not try to be obnoxious. He said that a "Cover Story" for Time Magazine would, in particular, annoy the rest of the press corps. I argued that Time Magazine was the most important magazine in the world at that time, and that it alone had offered to do a "Cover Story."
During this two-hour heated argument, Mr. David Lee, the Los Angeles-based West Coast Editor of Time Magazine arrived. I asked him to wait in the motel bar, telling him that Capt. Hill and I disagreed about the advisability of an interview with Time, but that if he would be patient, I would try to convince Rose to give him an "exclusive" interview.
After more than two hours of debate, interrupted only by occasional trips to the bar to keep Mr. Lee informed, Jean said, "From a woman's point of view, Rose is a Submarine Officer's wife. She is accustomed to small wardrooms, small parties. She should not be asked to face a large room filled with people shouting questions."
Taking that as a final argument, I said to Rose, "You have heard both arguments. Capt. Hill is the expert on publicity and public relations, but he doesn't know you from beans. I know you, but I don't know public relations from beans. You have to choose."
"I'll go with you," she said.
Chaplain Schumaker arrived. He was Chaplain of the Eleventh Naval District, and he offered his services.
Rose had no sooner made her decision on the interview with Dave Lee than the phone rang again from CHINFO. Apparently, Mr. Lee grew tired of waiting and called CHINFO – it was after midnight in Washington – and put some pressure on the bureau watch officer.
I answered the phone. Cdr. Kerchew at CHINFO said, "It is my understanding that matters have degenerated and that Rose may not give interviews. Put Capt. Hill on the phone."
"That is not necessary, Cdr.", I replied. "We have just finished a long conversation and Rose has agreed to give Mr. Lee his exclusive interview."
Cdr. Kerchew 's voice indicated he was not interested in a rational conversation about the subject.
"Put Capt. Hill on the phone, Cdr.," he said, biting off each word.
I passed the phone to Capt. Hill, who, even though speaking to an officer junior to him, spent about a minute repeatedly saying, "Yes, Sir."
After he hung up, Capt. Hill then wanted to argue about having a press conference after the Lee interview. I cut him short, saying that the subject had been exhausted and that Rose had made her decision.
Meanwhile, Beverly Bayette of the San Diego Union arrived and Jean gave her a background briefing in the back bedroom.
I went to the bar to get Mr. Lee and tell him that his pressure on Washington had been unnecessary and had caused some unnecessary conflict. I was wrong, it turned out later, because even with the chewing out Capt. Hill had taken from Washington, he was not through being a pain in the ass.
We offered Mr. Lee an immediate interview, but it was past 9 PM and Mr. Lee, after looking at the haggard Rose Bucher, elected to do the interview the next morning.
We took Rose to our home for rest, but the boys stayed at the homes of friends. There was only one late-night phone call. It was a return call from the Pueblo Executive Officer’s wife, Carol Murphy, who was living in Japan. The call was made through the Communications Officer at SUBFLOT ONE in Yokosuka. The call came through at 2:30 AM, our time.
THURSDAY January 25, 1968
The next morning, Rose had an upset stomach. For breakfast she had two Alka-Seltzers, toast and juice. I called the Eleventh Naval District and requested a doctor to be in attendance at the interview. It was important to the Navy that this interview, and any subsequent interviews for that day, come off in a timely manner. A doctor arrived, but after a few hours it was obvious that Rose was fine, so he left after giving us his office and home phone number.
Capt. Hill called early and asked what time the interview was to take place. I told him it was to be at 10 AM. He said that he would be in attendance. Just great, I thought.
I had actually arranged for a meeting with Mr. Lee at 9:15 AM so that I could give Mr. Lee some background before the 10 AM interview with Rose. At about 9:30 AM, as I was into the pre-interview, Capt. Hill arrived with a female Yeoman and a male Chief Petty Officer. Capt. Hill announced that he was going to tape the Time Magazine interview, for what reason we could not imagine, and do not know to this day, but I suspect it was just to add as much confusion as possible.
Capt. Hill was really annoyed. Seeing Mr. Lee, he said, "Are you early, or am I late?"
Mr. Lee smiled and replied, "In all candor, Captain, you are late." Capt. Hill was not pleased with the repartee even though Mr. Lee had not yet begun to question Rose. Capt. Hill asked Mr. Lee to please go outside the front door where my wife was soaking in the January San Diego sun. Capt. Hill and I then engaged in another, but shorter, rendition of the previous night’s arguments. The arguments had the same results. We agreed to disagree, but Capt. Hill still had an advantage in stripes.
All during this time, unknown to anyone, Rose was at the hair salon. During the next year there were to be two things that occupied her mind in addition to the constant thought of the Pueblo crew. One was the hairdresser and the other was her devotion to the Catholic Church. She never faced a photographer without first making a visit to the hairdresser. I soon became convinced that the reason for the hairdresser visits had a lot less to do with vanity than it had to do with nervousness. Getting her hair done relaxed Rose like nothing else except going to Mass.
Rose would not miss a Mass. She never missed a Sunday Mass and seldom missed a Holy Day – she knew them all. And she would not do anything on Sunday. No interviews, no meetings, no planning sessions – nothing. At first it made me mad, and I would yell at her that Pete was not getting Sundays off, but it made no difference. Sunday was her day. She would work until she dropped, but she would not work on Sunday. Period.
During all this time, voluminous phone messages were being left with the Bahia Motel phone operator. Most were from women who simply identified themselves as "Navy Wives" and said they were available to help if Rose needed them. One was from an Australian woman who had just arrived in town. It took days, but Rose called every one of them to thank them. It was also very heartwarming.
(Factual information and quotes taken from a recording of the Dave Lee interview. This interview, the conversations that took place in the background of the interview, and the subsequent press conference and individual interviews were recorded on the same tape.)
Mr. Lee’s interview of Rose was so well done that it was obvious he was a real professional. The Yeoman was taking a full 36-exposure roll of film and the Chief was recording the entire interview, but that did not seem to bother anyone. The interview was interrupted by the arrival of a Mr. Hartman from the local office of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). He pulled Rose and I aside and told us that Radio Pyongyang was broadcasting a confession from a voice said to be Pete’s. ONI wanted to know if Rose had any recordings of Pete's voice. All the family furnishings were in temporary storage in Jefferson City, Missouri, but in those collections of furnishings there was possibly a recording or two with Pete's voice on it. Rose gave the investigator receipt slips so that they could find the furnishings and gave him permission to search for tapes. He thanked us and left, but his interruption had taken twenty minutes of the Dave Lee interview time and Rose was very nervous about the TV crews waiting outside her door. She hated to keep them waiting.
Capt. Hill interrupted the interview just after Rose had described her husband in one word: "Dynamic." Capt. Hill said, "If I can ask a question. How much longer will this be? They are missing their deadlines, if you are concerned about that."
Dave said they would be another ten minutes.
Dave Lee was not through with his interview even though he finally said, graciously, that he was. The phone rang and I had a long phone conversation with an editor of Newsweek about the availability of any photographs that Rose might have of the Pueblo. Newsweek wanted to know if the pictures had been given to anyone else, and I said "no." No one else had asked for them. The editor said he would send a messenger around immediately.
Without telling Dave Lee what they had wanted, I told him that Newsweek had just called. He jokingly asked if they had just found out about the capture of the Pueblo.
Dave asked if he could just hang around to listen to any other interviews that were held, and we said "certainly."
I looked around for Rose, only to find that both she and Capt. Hill were gone.
"Where is Rose?" I was talking to the room in general.
"She went in the other room with Capt. Hill and the ONI guy. Capt. Hill said to leave them alone."
"That is a good reason for me to go in there," I said, and I went off to find them.
Dave Lee said, "They are making pretty gutsy Lieutenant Commanders these days"
"It goes with the Submarine Force," said Jean.
What did bother us during the Dave Lee hectic interview was the constant ringing of the phone and the knocking on the door. Reporters and film crews kept asking me about the "11 O’clock press conference." I kept saying there was no "11 O'clock press conference" – until about the third inquiry alerted me to the fact that yes, there was an "11 O’clock press conference." ABC-TV, CBS-TV, NBC-TV national news camera crews along with Harold Keen, Beverly Bayette, Sam Rinaker – the group was growing by the second – with local people we knew and respected and strangers from around the country brought together by the strangely-announced "Press Conference."
Unable to convince Rose to have a press conference, Capt. Hill had simply told the press that there was a press conference, knowing, correctly, that we would not anger or disappoint the press by calling it off at the last second. Additionally, we were to learn later that Capt. Hill had run a major press conference with Peter Dengler (more about him later) and had made quite a name for himself. Capt. Hill was looking for another notch in his gun.
We had been had.
Rose had no choice but to have an 11 O’clock news conference. It was not fun. Rose was predictably cool, having been forced into something neither she nor her close advisors had wanted. And Rose knew that if Pete had actually broadcast a confession that he must have been horribly physically tortured, which, as it turned out, was absolutely correct. Even our worst suspicions were too naive.
The press conference was mercifully short. The TV cameras for all three networks were there along with the local media outlets of the networks. A representative of the networks played a very garbled one-minute recording of what was supposed to be Pete broadcasting a confession. It was absolutely impossible to tell if the speaker was even a member of the human race, much less determine which continent the speaker was from. They asked Rose if it was her husband – but of course she couldn't identify the voice, adding to the impression that she was being "muzzled" by the Navy. The press asked her what her comment was about the President calling up the reserves, which he had done that morning. She said, reasonably, since she was not sophisticated about world affairs, that she did not have a comment. We could hear the term "muzzled" sprouting wings. They asked Rose if the confession that had been published could have been Pete’s style of writing, but of course it was in militaryese and she couldn't say that it was the kind of writing she was accustomed to. That added to the impression that she was being "muzzled" by the Navy. It was a bum wrap, but she couldn't help it. And neither could the Navy.
Rose then was interviewed by Sam Rinaker for the evening news, just a few questions about her sons, which she did not want to answer because she did not want her children involved in the problem. Again, it looked like she was being "muzzled."
Then another interview by Harold Keen. He asked me to describe Pete, and I said, "Aggressive." What I really should have said was, "Belligerent."
Probably the worst part of the press conference from the Navy’s standpoint was the photograph that everyone used with their stories the next day. It showed a tight-lipped Rose with just the gold stripes of Capt. Hill right behind her head. It reinforced the false impression that the Navy was orchestrating her every move, and that Capt. Hill was there to keep control of her. In fact, he had become a rogue elephant in both the eyes of the Navy and of our group. He was never to be seen again, but too much damage was already done.
The cover of Time Magazine was a great benefit, however. Not only was the story excellent, but the actual cover painting of Pete, worth some $6,000 at the time, was presented to Pete by Time Magazine when he returned. In the meantime, the story was a very sympathetic accounting and that helped us. CHINFO wanted a sympathetic story to keep the plight of the Pueblo crew before the fickle American public. We soon realized how important that was.
After the press conference, which lasted only two minutes, we went back to the room and Rose gave private interviews to four members of the local press: Frank Saldana of the San Diego Tribune, Harold Keen of Channel 8, and Sam Rinaker and Beverly Bayette of the San Diego Union. Finally, during the Bayette interview, Rose broke down and cried. At this point everyone knew that Rose had done all she could do for one day, and Dave Lee departed with Beverly Bayette. Beverly was the only person I had ever met who had one blue eye and one brown eye.
Even though Rose had about collapsed, we had promised an interview with Bob Grant of KLAC Radio in Los Angeles, and they called. Rose held together for an excellent six minute interview, but it was all Rose had left. We remained at the motel until about 10:30 PM that night. The time was spent just visiting and refusing any further interviews – to give Rose a break. The phone calls came in for many more interviews, but Jean or I gave them instead of making Rose perform one more time.
At 1:30 AM Rose received a phone call from Admiral Thomas Moorer, the Chief of Naval Operations, expressing his personal concern for her and saying that everything that could be done was being done. He was always to be sympathetic and helpful any time he could be. The next year was to have heroes and villains in the Navy Department and the State Department. Admiral Moorer was always a hero.
There was also a call from Senator Frank Church to Rose. It made Rose feel much better to know that some political interest was there.
WHY ME, LORD?
Pete and I had been good friends but never really never been really close friends. We were too different to be extremely friendly, but I had a powerful respect for him and I always felt he had the same for me. The first night I met him we almost came to blows at a cocktail party at the home of Walt Booriakan, an officer on board the USS Ronquil (SS-396).
It is never easy for an officer to join a new submarine wardroom, and this was the first time I had ever joined a wardroom by attending a scheduled wardroom cocktail party. Additionally, I had been ordered aboard to square away an engineering plant that was so bad that the submarine had been towed back from its last overseas patrol, so I was coming aboard to turn around what the Navy felt was a less than perfect system. I was an outsider.
The Navy had determined that someone new was needed to fix the problems, and I had been offered my choice of Chief Petty Officers in the Submarine Force for assistance. I went to the cocktail party with some fear and trepidation.
Furthermore, I do not like cocktail parties and usually did not attend them, even though submarine wardrooms were very small, usually seven officers, so the parties were very small. At this particular party, Pete insisted that I join the men in singing. I did not wish to do so. We nearly came to blows.
Subsequently, I was the one awakened by the radioman in the middle of the night while we were at sea. The radioman had messages that Pete, as Executive Officer, needed to sign. Pete had a terrible habit of coming up swinging when awakened.. Even though his actions upon being awakened were subconscious reactions, he never reacted that way when I woke him up.
The crew never feared Pete – in fact they worshiped him. He was one of them, an ex-enlisted man who had worked his way up the ladder. When he was transferred from one submarine to another, men put in special requests to transfer with him. This is the ultimate compliment for an officer. Still, they were not anxious to awaken him and run afoul of a right hand thrown unconsciously. Pete was always good for a right hand – or a full frontal assault if some of the crew was in trouble at a bar in some foreign port, and the crew knew who to call upon. He was as loyal to his men as they were to him.
But we were very different people. He needed people around him all the time. He was a party man. I was a loner.
Pete was an intellectual barbarian. He could out-drink, out-fight, out-curse any man I knew. After being orphaned and growing up on an Indian Reservation under the tutelage of Catholic Nuns, Pete graduated from Boy's Town in Nebraska – and he could handle himself physically very well. He could be 200+ pounds of mean.
He was also among the most learned and gentle men you could imagine– a watercolor painter who could discuss Shakespeare or Milton with a Great Books graduate or Von Mises with an economist. I respected him. I would have served under him and considered it an honor.
But he and I did not pull liberty together because we had such different personalities.
My first day aboard the Ronquil was a disaster. I came down the after hatch, walked through the engine room and hit the alarm test panel test button. Only half the lights worked. For the next few weeks I did an extensive inspection of the engineering department. My list of discrepancies was so long that when I gave it to the Captain he shuddered and asked if I would mind not turning it in officially. Instead, he took the unofficial report and asked me if I would mind if he made me the Operations Officer instead of Engineer and put another officer in charge of cleaning up the mess. I didn't mind.
Pete took me under his wing and made me the Navigator, teaching me tricks he had learned as a Quartermaster Second Class before he attended the University of Nebraska and became an officer. I had learned navigation at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and had navigated on several ships, but Pete made a navigator out of me.
One thing I absolutely knew to be true about Pete: If I was the one captured by the North Koreans, Pete Bucher would be the first person to help my wife. There was no price he would have been unwilling to pay to help the wife of a shipmate. His loyalty was almost a throwback to the Knights of the Round Table.
In his first letter from Korea to Rose, he wrote, "Find Hemphill, and take his advise on all matters." That letter gave me the latitude within the Navy to act as a spokesman for the Bucher family -- and I consider it the greatest compliment of my life to be so entrusted with his confidence.
I knew long before that letter arrived several weeks later tthat I had to try to help if I could, although Pete and I had not spoken in years. Jean and I had seen Pete and Rose a few times in the years since we had served together, but it was an occasional thing. Even though the Submarine Force only had a few thousand officers worldwide, they were indeed worldwide.
It was just by chance that we knew where Rose was living when the Pueblo was captured. Rose had come by the house where we lived, so she and Jean had visited some weeks before.
One thing we did not know was why Pete had elected to surrender the Pueblo. He was catching a lot of flack in absentia for doing that – a few hours after the capture and a solid year before the facts became available. Old Salts everywhere were opining in the press that he should have gone down with his ship. Even though we were not to get the information on the surrender for almost exactly a year, I felt I knew Pete. He was even more aggressive than I was – and I had a reputation even in submarines for recklessness. He would have behaved in at least as aggressive a manner as I would have in the same situation. If you don’t know all of the details, you have to rely on character…and Pete had plenty of that.
Knowing the facts much better now, I still feel that he did absolutely the right thing with the information he had at that time. If he had more accurate information he certainly would have done things differently than he did – but you can't make good decisions with bad information.
Without knowing anything about the capture, I did know that the U.S.S. Pueblo was listed as an AGER. That meant that the Pueblo was not a "ship of the line" or a combatant ship. The first letter of the abbreviation, A, meant that the Pueblo was an auxiliary ship, usually unarmed or, at most, lightly armed, and historically dependent on combatant ships for armed support. Auxiliaries, like transport ships, oil tankers and freighters, were not supposed to be able to fight.
Pete had sent me a courtesy invitation to his Change of Command Ceremony when he took command of the Pueblo in Bremerton, Washington. I had not gone to the ceremony, but as soon as he was captured I looked up his ship in Navy books and found that it was a converted Army coastal freighter built in 1944, and was smaller than many Navy seagoing tugboats. Designed to hold a crew of 27 men, the Navy shoe-horned 83 men aboard. The Navy "old salts" that were calling for that ship to stand and fight must have thought the Pueblo was a cruiser or a destroyer.
FRIDAY – ONE MORE DAY – January 26, 1968
The next morning, after a full night’s sleep, we were awakened at 7:30 by a phone call from the San Diego Union. The Union told us that there was a wire-photo showing what was purported to be Pete signing a confession and that they would send out a messenger with a copy for Rose to see. They actually sent out Frank Saldana and a photographer at 8:30 AM to show Rose what was a very fuzzy photograph of someone signing something. It did resemble Pete, but there was no way to be certain, and there was no telling what the figure was signing. There were no photographs taken of Rose, but she did release a statement through Frank that the photograph did resemble Pete in some ways, and Frank put the comment on UPI.
Frank suggested that we get ourselves an attorney to represent Pete when he returned. The story, he said, was going to be very big, and Pete was going to need professional help – both in an expected Court of Inquiry, and eventually with the media. It was a sound piece of advice, but we did not know any good attorneys. We knew that we would need some help. Frank indicated that both Rose and Pete had a potential financial stake in good representation. We were a long way away from even the first consideration of financial gain, but we understood what he was saying. In the end, there was very little financial gain, but that will be detailed later.
The night before, Thursday night, Dave Lee had called and asked Jean if Rose would consent to an additional interview the next morning. Jean knew that Rose was embarrassed by the confusion and somewhat short shrift that Dave had received the day before. She told Dave to meet us at the motel when we arrived at 10:30 AM. He was on time, and the interview continued in a very relaxed atmosphere. Rose took her shoes off, literally, and relaxed with her feet on the coffee table for the first time in days. The interview went very well and lasted for several hours.
With the release of the Associated Press wire-photo, the media descended on Rose again. This time we just released a statement. At the same time Rose released a letter she wanted to give to all wives of all Pueblo crewmen, since she did not have their individual addresses. In the future the Navy was to refuse to give Rose the individual addresses. Rose never was able to communicate with the wives except through the press. More about this outrage later.
That afternoon, several men from the Office of Naval Intelligence brought some tapes they had obtained from the Bucher's household possessions in Jefferson City, Missouri. We listened to the tapes but there was no recording of Pete’s voice. We then took one of the intelligence men to the airport and Rose took a 3 PM flight to Los Angeles to go into a few days seclusion at the home of a woman friend she knew in Palo Verdes. The press, which by now had discovered our home phone number, could not find Rose in Los Angeles.
Jean and I went home to get a few hours of relaxation. At 9:30 PM we got a call from Harold Keen of Channel 8, who this time was acting as a stringer for the New York Times. Jean and I gave him twenty minutes background information on Pete as a person. It was a most disconcerting interview because Harold Keen was a former world champion typist who took all the interviews word for word. Hearing the typing in the background, you had a tendency to talk faster just to see if you could get ahead of the damned machine. I couldn't, and he didn't miss a comma.
Saturday, January 27, 1968
The weekend was reasonably quiet. At 2 AM on Saturday morning I had a call from Mark Bucher who had been permitted to remain in the motel room. "Mr. Hemphill, someone just took a picture of me. Mom told me not to answer the door or the telephone but a knock on the door woke me up and I just stumbled out to answer it. A flash bulb went off in my face, and some guy ran away."
I told him to go back to bed, that it was not a big thing. I suspected that someone had hoped that Rose would answer the door, but since it was Mark, we never saw the photograph published anywhere. We have no idea who might have done the paparazzi action.
I did call an attorney that one of the ONI agents had recommended: E. Miles Harvey of the attorney firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton and Scripps. He agreed to talk with Rose early in the week. In retrospect, it was one of the really lucky or smart things we did. Although Miles and I had many disagreements over the next year, he was and is a high quality individual and brilliant attorney – easily the best in the state. I probably should have listened to him more.
It was Miles who acted as a brake on my more aggressive actions, a calming voice to my anger. By nature and training, attorneys are conservative and cautious. They are trained to consider the consequences of actions, and while they are too cautious for my taste – so cautious as to forbid that anything be done – still, they occasionally stop precipitous action.
Miles, who later was to represent Pete before the Court of Inquiry, was our representative to Washington and to the Pentagon – because I was considered a "loose Cannon." If I ever get into real trouble and need an attorney, he is the one I’ll call.
Jean remarked to some of the Navy Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) people, who had recommended E. Miles Harvey as an attorney, that it would be nice if the Navy would take Rose’s furniture out of temporary storage in Jefferson City and establish her in Navy housing in San Diego. It was becoming apparent that resolving the Pueblo incident might take some time, and that, in any case, Pete would probably be returned to San Diego where the hospital facilities were prepared for his eventual return. Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego was the main return point for those POWs returned from the Vietnam War. The ONI people agreed to convey the message to Washington.
During the rest of the weekend there were many phone calls but we just took messages until Rose returned from Los Angeles on PSA Flight 448 at 6:15 PM. We met her with her boys. We took Rose back to the motel to pick up the mail, then returned to our home.
MONDAY January 29, 1969
Quiet day at the motel. First, I called my bosses at the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center for the first time in a week. I talked to my immediate boss, Cdr. Wear, and the Commanding Officer, Capt. Bennett. They made up official leave papers for me and said that I was covered. The papers would be torn up upon my return to duty, and they promised to take care of any problems that might be caused by my strained relationship with the very senior Capt. Hill. Their support made me feel a great deal better, because I was operating well above my grade level.
It was easy to remember the story of the Ensign who went to a meeting of Admirals as the aid to his Admiral. As the Ensign insisted on making comments, the conference chairman told the Ensign that it might be better if he kept his comments to himself until he had more experience. The Ensign said, "I'm sure you didn't make Admiral by keeping silent."
"True," replied the Admiral. "But I did make Commander that way."
It was becoming pretty obvious that I was not going to make full Commander.
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