NWS EARLE

USS Pueblo (AGER-2) Veteran speaks to CPO Selectees

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Story by Max Lonzanida on 08/27/2018
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum's 18th Annual Chief Petty Officer Heritage Days was held on August 21-23, 2018. This year's event set a new record, with over 840 Chief Petty Officer Selects participating from 58 US Navy Commands. Selectee groups ventured from nearby installations such as Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and out of the area, including the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, and a single CPO Selectee from the Surface Combat Systems Center-Wallops Island. The event is proudly hosted by the museum, local Chief Petty Officers, and Nauticus aboard the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and the adjoining pavilion. According to the event's co-chair, BTCS(SW) Thomas Dandes (Ret.), the three-day event "is an opportunity for Chief selectees to connect with their history and gain insight into being a chief, which will help them become stronger Navy leaders". New to this year's event was a Veteran and former Prisoner of War from the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), Earl Phares, a retired US Navy Senior Chief.

Senior Chief Phares' presented aboard the USS Wisconsin (BB-64), in a shaded section near turret #3. CPO Selectees rotated through his station in 30 minute increments, and had the opportunity to hear his account of his 335 days of captivity in North Korea. According to a National Security Agency Release Summary dated 20 November 2012:

On January 28, 1968, fourteen miles from North Korean land, the USS Pueblo was attacked and captured by overwhelming forces from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). The crew was detained and interrogated until their release on December 23, 1968. Despite the crew's valiant efforts to destroy classified materials on board, much was still undestroyed and fell into the North Korean hands when the ship was captured.

The USS Pueblo was the first United States warship to be captured without a fight since June 22, 1807, when the HMS Leopard forced the USS Chesapeake to surrender off the Virginia Capes, according to author Ed Brandt's 1969 account in The Last Voyage of the USS Pueblo.

Senior Chief Phares started each presentation with some cursory remarks about the fateful event in 1968. Aside from the official records, he talked candidly and quite humorously about his capture. He recalled the fateful command that was broadcasted throughout the ship, as he put simply "standby to be boarded". He talked about his moment of capture along with 82 other crewmembers; including two civilian oceanographers. He recounted in vivid detail the ten-hour train ride to Pyongyang, North Korea, and talked about the number of bread slices that he received as his daily ration. He recalled with humor the crew's resistance to captivity during propaganda photos taken of them; most saliently being photographed giving captors the middle finger, or bird as he recalled it. At the time, North Korean captors were unfamiliar with this blatant expression, which crew members explained to captors that it was a Hawaiian good luck sign. Phares also recounted the punishment that was dished out after their captors realized the true meaning of the gesture. He summarized each of his presentations with a simple explanation that he provided to his wife upon his return from captivity, as he put simply when his wife asked; "I got captured. I got the shit kicked out of me. I lost weight, and then I came home."

After each presentation, CPO Selectees had the opportunity to ask questions about his captivity, his hobbies, his career as a musician, and his career as a postman and deputy sheriff. After his release from captivity, Senior Chief Phares remained in the US Navy, and retired in 1995.

About the Museum:

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is one of ten Navy museums that are operated by the Naval History & Heritage Command. It celebrates the long history of the U.S. Navy in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and is co-located with Nauticus in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. Admission to the museum is free, simply by-pass the ticket line and take the stairs or elevator to the museum on the second deck. The museum hosts a robust educational program for area schools and commands, with free educational programs to area schools aligned with state curriculum standards, a travelling sea chest program, a premier Lego outreach program, and historical presentations for area commands. To inquire, contact their Educational Director, Laura Orr at Laura.L.Orr@navy.mil or at (757) 322-3018. The museum is also host to a robust volunteer corps, who serve as docents, support special events, and assist in museum archives. To inquire, contact their Volunteer Coordinator, Darcy Sink at Darcy.Sink@navy.mil or at (757) 322-2992. Lastly the museum proudly hosts military ceremonies, such as re-enlistments, retirements, and promotions for area commands aboard the U.S.S Wisconsin and in the museum's gallery. To inquire, contact their special events coordinator, Tom Dandes at Thomas.Dandes@navy.mil or call (757) 322-3106.

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