A man in a naval officer's leather jacket, with a name-and-rank label on the chest on the right side, leans forward over a crude table. His oily hair has gone uncut awhile and hangs like wet dark feathers over his forehead; he is a few weeks unshaven. He steadies a piece of paper with the outspread fingers of his left hand, one of which bears the knuckle-dusting bulge of a Navy ring, and his right hand holds in a cramped, schoolboyish grip a cartridge pen, which describes a bold script with wide-sweeping crosses of the t's:
"I am CDR Lloyd Mark Bucher captain of USS Pueblo belonging to the U S Pacific Fleet, U S Navy, who was captured while carrying out espionage activities after intruding deep into the territorial waters of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"My serial Number is 58215401. I was born in Pocatello Idaho, USA. I am 38 years old . . ."
Between 10:52 p.m. and 12:32 a.m. on the night of January 22-23, Washington time, the Pueblo , a technological dreamship of electronics intelligence, which had been cruising in waters east of North Korea, monitoring the mainland, reported that she was being challenged by hostile vessels approximately 15 1/2 nautical miles from the coast, near the port of Wonsan. A flotilla consisting of a North Korean submarine chaser and three patrol boats had hailed and interdicted and now boarded and captured the Pueblo , while North Korean jet fighters circled overhead. Of the compliment of six American officers, 75 enlisted men, and two civilans, four were injured, one fatally. The captors took the ship into Wonsan and charged that she had intruded into North Korean waters.
The U.S. reaction was ferocious. President Johnson (who later acknowledged, with some doubt, that the Pueblo might "inadvertently" have "drifted" inside the 12-mile limit before it was challenged) called an emergency meeting of the Security Council; demanded the immediate release of the ship; called up 14,787 Navy and Air Force reservists; sent two new squadrons of fighters to South Korea; and stationed the world's largest fighting vessel, the carrier Enterprise , off Wonsan. The North Koreans responded by broadcasting Captain Bucher's "confession." The State Department warned that a threatened trial of the crew as criminals would be "a deliberate aggravation of an already serious situation." The North Koreans sat tight, their little national thumb on their little national nose, aimed at the greatest power on earth.
Now embarrassment climbed on ignominy's back: the South Koreans complained that in the Pueblo affair the U.S. was showing excessive concern for its own interests and didn't really care a fig about South Korea; and threatened to withdraw 49,000 South Korean troops from Vietnam. Johnson sent Cyrus R. Vance to Seoul to dilly the Southerners down. Negotiations in Panmunjom with the North Koreans ove the Pueblo lasted all year long.
What burned in the mind all year long was that picture of Commander Bucher, for it had indeed been a shock: the captain of a U.S. Navy ship humbled into groveling confession by a pipsqueak nation. For most Americans this image struck at a heart's cry embedded deep in the Dream: Death before surrender to kings or dictators or commies! - and the horror of the Pueblo affair was that this was surrender to Mickey Mouse. It shook up, early in the year, precious fragments of the communal memory: John Paul Jones ("I have not yet begun . . ."), Patrick Henry ("Give me . . ."), Custer (never mind whose foot the tyranny shoe was on), the sure-death courage of the Alamo, the wild exuberance of a movie actor with a Teddy Roosevelt moustache over Teddy Roosevelt upper teeth charging up San Juan Hill in what looked like an Aussie hat. And a reverberation in the unconscious mind was: If North Korea can do this to us, can we keep North Vietnam from doing whatever to us?
President Johnson sends a special message to Congress, pressing fro passage of the Civil Rights Bill, which provides a three-stage lowering of racial barriers for 53 million housing units . . . At a place called the Gymnasium, in New York, the Japanese sculptress Kusama stages a mass naked happening, at which all comers are cordially invited to divest to total skin and then, as a first step toward a mysterious somewhere of the libido, have body paint applied by the hostess . . . General William C. Westmoreland, commander in Vietnam, submits his annual report to the President: "The year ended with the enemy increasingly resorting to desperation tactics in attempting to achieve military-psychological victory; and he has experienced only failure in these attempts ." . . .