Lloyd M. Bucher
|Lloyd M. Bucher|
Receiving the Purple Heart
September 1, 1927|
|Died||January 28, 2004
San Diego, California
|Place of burial||Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Commands held||USS Pueblo (AGER-2)|
|Battles/wars||World War II
*Korean DMZ Conflict (1966–1969)
Prisoner of War Medal
Lloyd Mark "Pete" Bucher (1 September 1927 – 28 January 2004) was an officer in the United States Navy, who is best remembered as the captain of the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), which was captured on January 23, 1968 by North Korea.
Early life and education
Bucher was born in Pocatello, Idaho, where he was given up for adoption by his birth mother, and was orphaned at an early age (his adoptive mother dying of cancer when he was age 3). He was raised by his father, grandparents, various other family members, his father again, then drifted through a series of Catholic orphanages in Idaho until he read a magazine article about Father Flanagan's Boy's Town in Nebraska. He wrote to Father Flanagan and was surprised when he wrote back to Bucher. Bucher was accepted at Boy's Town in the Summer of 1941, and for the rest of his life considered it to be his home. Bucher flourished at Boy's Town, making honor roll the majority of his time there and playing football, basketball, track and baseball. Like most young men during World War II, he dropped out his senior year to enlist in the Navy, serving the last year of the war and for two years afterward (1945–1947). As an enlisted man, Bucher reached the rank of quartermaster second class and obtained a high school diploma. He then worked in construction and as a bartender before entering the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship in 1949. While attending university, he signed up for Naval ROTC. He graduated with a BS degree in 1953 and was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Career as a submariner
In January 1954, Bucher was called to active duty and served as division and education officer on the USS Mount McKinley (LCC-7). It was in mid-1955 that Bucher was admitted to submarine school at New London, Connecticut.
After graduation, Bucher served as torpedo and gunnery officer of the submarine USS Besugo (SS-321), operations officer of the USS Caiman (SS-323), and assistant plans officer for logistics on the staff of Commander, Mine Force, Pacific Fleet.
From 1961 to 1964 he served on the submarine USS Ronquil (SS-396) rising from third officer to executive officer, after which he became an assistant operations officer on the staff of Commander Submarine Flotilla Seven in Yokosuka, Japan. Bucher loved submarines and his greatest desire was to command one. However, Bucher was a conventional submariner not trained in nuclear power, and his career options became limited when the submarine force became increasingly populated by nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear-trained submarine officers effectively hand-picked by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover in the 1960s. As a result, when Bucher screened for command, he was slated for command of an auxiliary surface vessel outfitted for communications and signals intelligence (COMINT/SIGINT) collection, in this case, USS Pueblo (AGER-2).
The Pueblo incident
While monitoring North Korea, the Pueblo came under attack by North Korean naval forces, primarily motor torpedo boats, even though U.S. Naval officials and the crew have claimed the ship was in international waters at the time. North Koreans boarded the ship and took her to the port at Wonsan. For the next 11 months, Bucher and his crew were held as POWs by the North Koreans. Initially, they were treated relatively well, with good food and living accommodations. However, their treatment turned harsher when the North Koreans realized that crewmen were secretly giving them the finger, which they explained as being a "Hawaiian good luck sign", in staged propaganda photos they had been taking of the crew. From then on they were regularly beaten by the North Koreans.
Bucher was psychologically tortured such as being put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented and agreed to 'confess to his and the crew's transgression.' Bucher wrote the confession since a 'confession' by definition needed to be written by the confessor himself. They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the North Korean state. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung" ("We paean" sounds almost identical to "we pee on"). Following an apology, a written admission by the U.S. that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the U.S. would not spy in the future, the North Korean government decided to release the 82 remaining crew members. On 23 December 1968 the crew was taken by buses to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) border with South Korea and ordered to walk south across the "Bridge of No Return". Exactly 11 months after being taken prisoner, Bucher led the long line of crewmen, followed at the end by the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Ed Murphy, the last man across the bridge. The U.S. then verbally retracted the ransom admission, apology, and assurance. Meanwhile, the North Koreans blanked out the paragraph above the signature which read: "and this hereby receipts for 82 crewmen and one dead body" (Fireman Duane Hodges was killed by North Korean gunfire during the taking of the Pueblo).
No American military operations have been attempted to retrieve the USS Pueblo. The ship is still officially carried as in commission in the United States Navy's Naval Vessel Register. It remains in North Korea as a tourist attraction.
Following his release, Bucher was subjected to a court of inquiry by the Navy. A court martial was recommended. However the Secretary of the Navy, John H. Chafee, intervened on Bucher's behalf and no action was taken against him. Bucher followed his orders to not start any international incidents, and he felt that while a ship could be replaced, lives could not. The US Government finally recognized the crew's sacrifice and granted Prisoner of War medals to the crew in 1989.
Bucher was not found guilty of any indiscretions and continued his Navy career until retirement in the rank of Commander.
In 1970, Bucher published an autobiographical account of the USS Pueblo incident entitled Bucher: My Story.
Death and burial
Bucher died on January 28, 2004. He was buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. The Poway-Bernardo Mortuary, which was featured in the A&E reality TV series Family Plots at the time, handled the funeral services. One of the episodes of the series was dedicated to the Bucher's funeral services.
- North County Times. 2004-02-04 https://web.archive.org/web/20050102114921/http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2004/02/04/news/top_stories/2_3_0422_03_54.txt. Archived from the original on January 2, 2005. Missing or empty
- Russell, Stu. "THE DIGIT AFFAIR". usspueblo.org. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- Gary Pearlman. "End of North Korea?". The Palm Beach Times.
- US Navy ship listing
- Military Advantage. "Oliver North: Goodbye to a Hero". Military.com. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
- Bucher, Lloyd M.; Mark Rascovich (1970). Bucher: My Story. Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0385072449.
- Lloyd M. Bucher at Find a Grave
- Maness, Michael Glenn (2007). Would You Lie to Save a Life: Love Will Find a Way Home (Google eBook). AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4184-7819-3. "Commander Lloyd M. 'Pete' Bucher's heartrending story and his choice to 'lie to save lives' is the single focus of this book," p. 17
- Lloyd M. Bucher Papers at the Hoover Institution Archives