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USS Pueblo's William Massie Seeks Retribution From N. Korea

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William Thomas Massie, who survived 11 months in captivity in North Korean when the USS Pueblo was captured in 1968, recounts his ordeal and his quest for restitution. Rose Bucher, the widow of his captain, Lloyd "Pete" Bucher, is also part of the lawsuit.

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Massie and the others finally got their day in court in April 2008, where they testified at length about the abuse and its legacy.

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"The guards took me into the room, and in the room was a long table and a chair sitting in front of it," McClarren testified between sobs. "And, oh God, they put me on my knees and put a two-by-four between my knees and forced me to lay back, and I was there for hours. And they finally came in and told me to get up on the chair, and I had to crawl over to the chair and climb up on the chair.

"And as I sat there, the officer that was behind the chair pulled out his gun and put it to my head and went 'click.' And the thought that went through my mind then was, 'Am I going to hear the bang and is the bullet going to hurt when it hits?' And I went blank."

McClarren hasn't been able to shake his anxiety. "I get scared a lot," he added.

North Korea didn't contest the suit, and U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled in the plaintiffs' favor in December. Kennedy ordered North Korea to pay Massie, McClarren and Tuck $16.75 million each for their pain and suffering. He ordered the North Koreans to pay Rose Bucher and Bucher's estate $15.6 million. The judge noted that the sailors endured "extensive and shocking" abuse while in captivity and "suffered physical and mental harm that has endured."

Massie and the others rejoiced. They noted Kennedy had ruled that Bucher gave up the ship only after "recognizing there was no chance of escape."

Richard Streeter, a District-based lawyer who joined the case, says he is working with the U.S. government to obtain lists of frozen North Korean funds. Under Kennedy's ruling, he can then seek those funds through further legal action.

Massie has fantasies about the cash, though most aren't exactly practical. He wants to take his mom on a vacation, but he knows traveling is difficult on his body. He has thought about buying a new house, although he really likes the one they have on Hononegah Road, which he still shares with his mother. He is especially fond of a sunroom he built a decade ago, filled with leafy plants and large windows. Staring out into the back yard gives him a measure of peace.

Ghosts in the Present

Massie often hunts the Internet for news on North Korea, anything from the country's nuclear ambitions to the hunger of its people. He watches documentaries about the rogue regime and studies photographs and images of its leaders or military officers, scanning for the faces of his tormentors.

On an August morning, Massie awakens surprisingly refreshed. He didn't have a single nightmare. He hobbles past a large framed photograph of the Pueblo in his bedroom, down a dark hallway with plush beige carpet into his small kitchen, where he eats some instant oatmeal. He then heads to his office, where he plops into a big, black swivel chair and turns on the television. On the walls are seven crucifixes; a $500 bronze bust of Bucher sits on his desk; his Navy dog tags dangle from a lamp.

On the television, North Korea is the Big Story: Two female American journalists, taken hostage by the North Koreans months earlier, are finally free. Massie watches the coverage of the women getting off a plane.

A surge of relief flashes through him. But the catharsis passes quickly, and he can't stop his mind from drifting to darker places.

He wonders whether the women had been held in the same prison, or whether they had to eat the same brackish turnip soup and foul-tasting rice.

He wonders whether they had come across any of the same guards. He wonders whether they left with any of the same scars.


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