October 29, 2022 | Last updated Oct 13, 2023

Nebraskans Held Captive In North Korea

In January of 1968 the USS Pueblo, a navy vessel on an intelligence mission off the coast of North Korea, was attacked and captured by North Korean forces.  One sailor was killed and the remaining eighty-two were taken captive and incarcerated in North Korea for eleven months.  Two Nebraskans were on board this ship, Charles R. “Joe” Sterling, raised near Weeping Water, and Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, who was raised at Boys Town.  Sterling, who had joined the Navy in the late 1950s, continued his naval career after his release and retired after nearly thirty years of active and reserve service.  Upon his death in 2002 in Lincoln the Society acquired a collection of items relating to his service and his experience as a USS Pueblo crew member.  A few items from this larger collection are featured below.


An official photograph of Commander Bucher and thirty-two Pueblo crew members. It is signed on the back by nineteen of the enlisted men. Sterling is in the back row, fourth from right.


Eight Pueblo crewmembers photographed while being held prisoner in North Korea. Sterling is in the back row, second from right.


Charles R. Sterling with his wife and son, shortly after his release.


Plank Owner plaque. A plank owner is a member of a ship’s crew when it is first placed into commission or sometimes, re-commissioned. (11744-17)


Prisoner of War Medal awarded to Sterling following his incarceration in North Korea. The back of the medal is inscribed, “Awarded to Charles Sterling for honorable service while a prisoner of war, United States of America.” (11744-13)


The captain of the Pueblo at the time of its capture was Commander Lloyd M. Bucher. Bucher was an accomplished artist and this is a print of his watercolor painting of the Pueblo. It is inscribed, “For Chas. “Joe” Sterling, Well Done! Proud of your service! L. M. Bucher.” (11744-18)


Sterling’s leather jacket. (11744-19)

–Deb Arenz, Senior Museum Curator

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