Nebraskans Held Captive In North Korea

In January of 1968 the USS Pueblo, a navy vessel on an intelligence mission off the coast of North Korea, was attacked and captured by North Korean forces.  One sailor was killed and the remaining eighty-two were taken captive and incarcerated in North Korea for eleven months.  Two Nebraskans were on board this ship, Charles R. “Joe” Sterling, raised near Weeping Water, and Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, who was raised at Boys Town.  Sterling, who had joined the Navy in the late 1950s, continued his naval career after his release and retired after nearly thirty years of active and reserve service.  Upon his death in 2002 in Lincoln the Society acquired a collection of items relating to his service and his experience as a USS Pueblo crew member.  A few items from this larger collection are featured below. 

An official photograph of Commander Bucher and thirty-two Pueblo crewmembers. It is signed on the back by nineteen of the enlisted men. Sterling is in the back row, fourth from right.

An official photograph of Commander Bucher and thirty-two Pueblo crew members. It is signed on the back by nineteen of the enlisted men. Sterling is in the back row, fourth from right.

Eight Pueblo crewmembers photographed while being held prisoner in North Korea. Sterling is in the back row, second from right.

Eight Pueblo crewmembers photographed while being held prisoner in North Korea. Sterling is in the back row, second from right.

 

Charles R. Sterling with his wife and son, shortly after his release.

Charles R. Sterling with his wife and son, shortly after his release.

Plank Owner plaque. A plank owner is a member of a ship’s crew when it is first placed into commission or sometimes, re-commissioned.

Plank Owner plaque. A plank owner is a member of a ship’s crew when it is first placed into commission or sometimes, re-commissioned. (11744-17)

 

Prisoner of War Medal awarded to Sterling following his incarceration in North Korea. The back of the medal is inscribed, “Awarded to Charles Sterling for honorable service while a prisoner of war, United States of America.”

Prisoner of War Medal awarded to Sterling following his incarceration in North Korea. The back of the medal is inscribed, “Awarded to Charles Sterling for honorable service while a prisoner of war, United States of America.” (11744-13)

The captain of the Pueblo at the time of its capture was Comdr. Lloyd M. Bucher. Bucher, who was raised at Boys Town, Nebraska, was an accomplished artist. This print of his watercolor painting of the Pueblo is inscribed, “For Chas. “Joe” Sterling, Well Done! Proud of your service! L. M. Bucher.”

The captain of the Pueblo at the time of its capture was Commander Lloyd M. Bucher. Bucher was an accomplished artist and this is a print of his watercolor painting of the Pueblo. It is inscribed, “For Chas. “Joe” Sterling, Well Done! Proud of your service! L. M. Bucher.” (11744-18)

Sterling’s leather jacket.

Sterling’s leather jacket. (11744-19)

–Deb Arenz, Senior Museum Curator 
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4 Responses to Nebraskans Held Captive In North Korea

  1. sandy schroeder says:

    Very much appreciate this collection. The story of the Pueblo was such a tragic one. I was a little girl at the time (born 1961), but we prayed for those prisoners every night. My father was very active (through the “Pueblo Committee”) in trying to get our leaders to act to get our men released. Scores of letters, bumper stickers, press releases, tv / radio appearances, and a rally in Washington. He is gone now, but I have a box filled with the remnants from the campaign to free these men.

  2. Jennifer Love-Marriott says:

    My parents both served with Joe, on board the USS Sanctuary– the stories they tell from ‘back in the day’ were a constant source of laughter when I was a kid. I remember one summer we drove cross country to visit with Joe, his wife Ginny and their daughter. “Animal” was an amazing person, the kind parents SHOULD tell their kids about, he went to hell and back and managed, somehow, to always find things to laugh about. Now I’m ‘grown’, married to a sailor (same rank and rate as Joe at his capture) and have such an immense admiration for what Ginny went through as well. Hubby learned all about Joe and the boys during his A school… He’s gone now, but what Joe and the rest did for us and endured is remembered, respected, and still being taught to the sailors.

    • Tom Mooney says:

      Jennifer,

      Thank you for your comments about Charles “Joe” Sterling. We certainly appreciate hearing more about and documenting the stories of Nebraska’s men and women serving their country.

  3. Darren James says:

    We lived just down the street from the Sterlings when we lived Idaho Falls in…must’ve been 71-72. I remember playing over at their house with their son, Billy. I remember my dad telling me that we was in the navy. At least to my naive 5 year old eye, Joe seemed just like everyone else’s “All American” dad…playing with the kids, barbeques at their house etc. Years later, I was stationed in Idaho Falls going through the Navy’s nuclear training at INEL. Only then did I start to put the story together. I often wondered why the navy placed a Crypto in Idaho…unless he was out of the navy at that point.

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