Edward Murphy

USS Pueblo executive officer

On Jan. 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo was captured while performing missions in the high seas east of the Korean peninsula. The U.S. Navy reconnaissance ship faced machine-gun fire from a North Korean naval vessel and the threat of a MiG fighter jet overhead.

Murphy: We should’ve gotten out of there right away, but weren’t able to. And from sunrise to noon the next day, we talked a lot about North Korea’s actions. All the while, we could have gotten out of there. However, by the time we noticed the ship was in danger, it was already full of smoke.

The Pueblo was taken to Wonsan harbor in North Korea, and the 82 crew members–including Edward Murphy, the Pueblo's second-in-command, and James Kell, the chief communications officer–were detained in North Korea for 11 months. During this time, the crew of the Pueblo suffered torture, beatings, and forced interrogations in a prison camp near Pyongyang.

James Kell: We were always getting beaten up and there was psychological torture the whole time we were there. You know what to expect but you never know when they're going to come in with a pistol with a cocked hammer and click it on an empty chamber. I mean, that's what really makes your heart drop. And other things like, holding the legs of a regular sitting chair up and being beaten on your arms. There was a lot of pressure and torture. But most of it was psychological, which meant we came out of there like a basket case from all of this. And most of us still have a lot of problems.

When Murphy was detained in North Korea, he had a two-year-old son and a wife who was seven months pregnant.

Murphy: I didn’t have the freedom to say ‘hi’ to my wife. I couldn’t talk to my newborn daughter. And unfortunately, that kind of environment is part of the experience for MIA-POWs (Missing in Action-Prisoners of War) and their families. They’ve lost the freedom to connect with their loved ones and that’s sad. But we have thousands of MIA families that still don’t have closure.

The crew of the Pueblo returned to Panmunjom through the Freedom Bridge on Dec. 23, 1968, following negotiations between the United States and North Korea. The body of one sailor who was shot during the capture was also returned. Murphy never forgot the first words his son said to him when he returned home from North Korea.

Murphy: “My son was two when I was captured. By the time I was released, he had spent a third of his life without a dad. You don't think that a three-year-old has a sense of that, but they do. Thinking of the MIAs’ families and the POWs’ families, the little kids, they’re affected by that. I remember his smile when I returned. He said, 'Is Eddy my daddy?’ It was very succinct because the other kids had daddies and moms, but he didn’t. It's part of the horrors of war.”

The Pueblo is currently in the Taedong River in Pyongyang and is being used as a “security training center” for North Korean residents.