Fifty years after it was seized by North Korea, the USS Pueblo is the only US Navy ship held captive by a foreign government. And though mostly forgotten in the United States, the "Pueblo Incident" for North Korea remains a potent symbol of military success. The spy ship, attacked and captured 50 years ago this week, sits in the frozen Potong River on the edge of the sprawling "Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum" complex in central Pyongyang, the AP reports. Amid an escalating flow of rhetorical attacks on Washington for allegedly trying to sour North-South relations ahead of next month's Winter Olympics, North Korea's state-run media have played up the anniversary as a milestone in the country's struggle against the US.
The Pueblo was ill-equipped for the fight it got on Jan. 23, 1968. One US sailor was killed when the ship was strafed by machine gun fire and boarded. The 82 survivors were taken prisoner. The US sent carriers to the Sea of Japan and demanded the captives be released. North Korea, for its part, forced members of the crew, who say they were beaten frequently, to make public confessions. Former POW Stu Russell says their treatment worsened when their captors realized the meaning of the middle finger gesture they had been making when forced to pose for propaganda photos. The incident came to an end and the crew members were freed on Dec. 23, 1968, after Maj. Gen. Gilbert H. Woodward, the chief US negotiator, signed a statement acknowledging that the Pueblo had "illegally intruded into the territorial waters of North Korea."