SAN DIEGO -- Members of the crew of the spy ship USS Pueblo, which was captured by North Korean forces 20 years ago, say putting U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf with restrictive rules of engagement is asking for trouble.
Crewmembers of the 906-ton intelligence ship, the first American naval vessel captured at sea since 1812, held their second reunion during the weekend.
Their ship was seized by North Korean patrol boats on Jan. 23, 1968.
Cmdr. Lloyd 'Pete' Bucher and 81 crewmen were released Dec. 23, 1968, after a U.S. negotiator signed a 'confession' of the Pueblo's spying against North Korea, and Washington simultaneously repudiated the document.
About 40 former crewmen and their wives attended the weekend reunion in San Diego.
A number of the Pueblo men expressed sympathy Saturday for the sailors of the USS Vincennes, which is still patrolling the Persian Gulf after downing an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 people aboard.
The former sailors said that placing the armed forces in harm's way with restricted rules of engagement such as the Vincennes was operating under is asking for trouble.
'It's like having an earthquake and then building the same buildings,' said Bucher, who is now an artist in nearby Poway, Calif.
Bucher and his dazed sailors were flown back to San Diego 20 years ago, and plunged into a confusing situation of both support and disdain from the Navy and the nation.
Earl Phares, 40, San Diego, was asked if the Pueblo crew was supported by the Navy upon their return.
'From the lower ranks,' he said. 'I think the top brass was a little against us.'
Phares, who is now a senior chief petty officer in the Naval Reserve, said many admirals were embarrassed by the easy capture of the sophisticated spy ship, which did not put up a fight against the North Koreans.
Some of the Pueblo crew broke the U.S. military's Code of Conduct by telling their captors more than their name, rank and serial number.
'You do the best you can,' said Phares, who said his duties as a seaman centered around maintaining the ship's paint job. 'A lot of people felt guilty. I thought I was going to Portsmouth (Naval Prison) because I broke the code. I told more than my name, rank and serial number.'