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Interview with Donald Richard Peppard [10/29/2002]

Alan P. Pendergast:

Good afternoon. It's the 29th of October, 2002. It is 2 o'clock in the afternoon. My name is Al Pendergast. I am at the Veterans' Hospital in El Paso, Texas, and I'm interviewing Chief Petty Officer Retired Donald R. Peppard. Good afternoon sir. Nice to have you here talking with us.

Donald Richard Peppard:

You're welcome.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Mr. Peppard, I'd like to know something about your -- obviously I want to know about your military history. I'd like to know about the circumstances surrounding you joining the Navy and what made you choose the Navy?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, I come in right after high school and my reason for selecting the Navy -- my father had been in the Navy for a brief period and I thought that that would be something that I would enjoy if I had to go in the service. I had registered for the draft but had not been called yet, and so I and then two of my close friends enlisted at the same time into the Navy right out of high school.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay, so its the whole buddy thing?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yeah --

Alan P. Pendergast:

Right in there?

Donald Richard Peppard:

The three of us went together.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay, tell me about basic training. Did you guys go to basic training together?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes. Well we graduated high school in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, and then we went to Cambridge, Maryland, for our recruit training.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And that -- in those days I think it was about an 8-week training course. And I graduated from recruit training and then assigned to a service crew at that same base.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. What was basic training like back then?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, it was pretty regimented. I'm not sure that it's not pretty much the same today. But I know that we were really pretty strictly administered to and, of course, back in those days the young people, we were smokers and all that and we were regulated on when we could do that sort of thing and it was probably the first real regulation we'd ever any of us been under.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So you had your regimented smoke breaks and --?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Absolutely everything was by the bell and whistle and whatever.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. So, you guys all went to basic training together. Was that what they called it in the Navy?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes.

Alan P. Pendergast:

And you graduated, all on the same day I guess?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, out of the three of us one of the guys that was with me complained that he had knee problems, and so they put him in sick bay for a couple days and decided he really didn't have a problem and he ended up in a different company, and that was disappointing for him.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Oh, okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

But two of us did come out together.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. Where did you go from basic training after that?

Donald Richard Peppard:

After basic training I was reassigned back to Cambridge, Maryland for a class A school for Yeomen School.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

Which was really an administrative rating.

Alan P. Pendergast:

And did your buddy, the one who was graduating with you, did he also go to the same school?

Donald Richard Peppard:

No, he did not. He was selected for a different rating and I am not sure if he went to school but I'm sure, he may have, but he went in a different direction from me. During recruit training we are all interviewed to see what -- who we're best suited for as far as the naval service and it was decided at that time that I would join the naval security group.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And so that meant that I was selected to be in the Naval Security Group, the enlisted branches were about six different ratings. And they decided to make mine the administrative rating, and that's why I was assigned back to Cambridge for Yeoman School.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. So when you came into the Navy, you really didn't have any say on what direction you were going to go, you just -- they decided for you after basic training.

Donald Richard Peppard:

They asked us if we had a preference and my preference when I came in I wanted to be a storekeeper.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And I really didn't have any good reason why I wanted to, it just seemed like something I might want to do. But after interviewing me, they decided I was better suited to be a cryptologic technician, so --

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow.

Donald Richard Peppard:

-- that's the way I went.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. What were some your more memorable experiences while serving in the Navy?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, up until the time I went aboard ship for the first time, and I'd been in 12 years at that time, I'd been pretty much all over the world different places and I certainly enjoyed a nice tour in Germany. My first tour of duty was Guam. That was kind of an experience in and of itself. And then I went to Germany and came back and spent a tour in Washington, D.C., and went to Scotland. These were all pretty memorable places, but of course the most memorable was my tour aboard the USS Pueblo.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. When did you first go on the USS Pueblo?

Donald Richard Peppard:

I was stationed in Groton, Connecticut, and I had finished about 18 months of a two-year tour when I got early order to join the Precommission Crew in the USS Pueblo in Bremerton, Washington, and so it was in March 1967 that I went out to join the Precommission Crew and the ship was in the shipyard at the time and going -- undergoing renovations and reconstruction of some of the decks and things like that so we were there for quite a while. But in the meantime I did get some administrative duties taken care of while we were waiting to be commissioned.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. And when -- so when they commission the ship that means everybody gets aboard and its time to move out?

Donald Richard Peppard:

It's time to move out. We were commissioned in -- actually commissioned in May of 67. We had a ceremony for that, but then we stayed in the shipyard a bit longer because they decided to redo some of the facilities aboard the ship, and then after that we went on a couple of shakedown cruises in Puget Sound. And then we sailed out of Puget Sound and down the west coast of the US down to San Francisco for a short liberty and then into San Diego where we underwent six weeks of what they call "underweight training," and a that's preparing a crew for emergencies aboard ship.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And we had a pretty green crew so that was very important.

Alan P. Pendergast:

How many members, approximately? I know it varied probably from day do day, literally.

Donald Richard Peppard:

At the time we were captured we had exactly 83 people aboard. Remember this was originally a cargo ship, and the complement on the cargo ship was somewhere in the area of 40 personnel. So we were more than doubled what the normal complement would be for that size ship. But that was because we had a special detachment aboard and we had special spaces that had been constructed for that purpose.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Why don't you tell me about the circumstances surrounding the capturing of the ship and of the dates, if you can go through that?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Sure. We had left Yokosuka, Japan, which was our assigned home port, on the fifth of January and our first mission was to take us off the coast of North Korea, where we were just going to listen to see what the radar was like and any other signals that we received emanating from North Korea. We sailed south to Sasebo, Japan and it was there it was decided that we had considerably more classified materials aboard than we needed for that mission. So it was my duty to care for the classified materials, so we packed a quite a bit of that up and turned it over to the Armed Forces courier service.

Alan P. Pendergast:

In Japan?

Donald Richard Peppard:

In -- while we were in Sasebo.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And then we took on some more supplies, topped off our fuel and went up into the Sea of Japan and we'd -- then, I don't know how long we'd been up there, a couple of weeks, where we sailed as far north as the southern tip of Russia, up around Vladivostok, and then we turned and headed south and moved in a little closer to the Korean peninsula. But we had strict orders not to approach closer than 13 nautical miles.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Maintaining your international waters?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Correct?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Back in those days most of the free countries of the world recognized three miles as the international limit, but the Communist countries insisted on 12.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Yes, I remember 12. So we were recognizing their 12 mile limit and even staying one further mile, so that was our condition, and this included not just their mainland but their offshore island. We were to stay that far away from them as well. And we had been traveling down the coast of Korea for about a week or so, and really were getting very little information. It was nearly a wasted trip, at least in the eyes of those that were trying get information. And the skipper decided that maybe one more day and we'd head back even though it was a little early to go back, and the night before we were captured two fishing trawlers came out in our vicinity but they didn't really come close enough to really inspect us. And so we really didn't think much about that, we just figured that they'd noticed us and didn't give us a second thought. But it was all noted in our logs, etc. But the next morning, right after early chow, we were approached by several North Korean vessels and there were two sub chasers, four torpedo boats and, although I didn't witness them, I understand there were a couple of MIGs overhead.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And one of the torpedo boats seemed to be the main ship, the one in charge of the operation. And through flag signals they signaled us to turn and follow them into the port of Wonsan. We certainly didn't want to do that. And the skipper answered that he was in international waters and that he intended to remain in the area. And they insisted once again that we follow them into Wonsan and when the skipper again refused to do that, then they opened fire with small arms. And at first they didn't hit the ship or any of the personnel they just kind of sent a volley across our bow.

Alan P. Pendergast:

To let you know that they weren't playing?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes, that they were serious about their intent. But we'd been sitting there with the engines dead, and we didn't have any signals or any flags out to indicate who we were. So when they pointed at us, the skipper ordered the engines started and, as a matter of fact, we turned and started heading slowly out to sea from that position. And they insisted that we stop and turn around and follow them into Wonsan, and when we didn't do that then they started firing at the ship. And they were using 57- millimeter cannon I think was their largest and firing broadside into our ship plus we had the torpedo boats out there that were really extremely fast compared to our ship. The USS Pueblo would do 12.5 knots with, uh, which I could almost walk faster than our boat, so these two Korean boats were really playing tag with us. And in the meantime the sub chasers were firing at us and several of the men were wounded in the exchanges. And we had two .50-caliber machine guns; that was our heavy armament. They were covered in tarpaulins. They were frozen and there was no shielding around them at all. They were on exposed decks and so there was no chance of even getting them uncovered.

Alan P. Pendergast:

What was the date again?

Donald Richard Peppard:

January 23, 1968.

Alan P. Pendergast:

What was the temperature like?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Very cold. I don't know exactly -- very cold. But they'd indicated that if we were in the water our survival time would be less than two minutes because of the temperature of the water.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So cold. Hypothermia?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes. It'd get us very quickly. I know that before they attacked us in the days before that the superstructure on the ship had iced over several times, and it was serious enough that it could have capsized us.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow.

Donald Richard Peppard:

So we had we had to send men aloft up on the mast, et cetera, to chip ice to just relieve some of that weight that we were carrying. So it was pretty cold out there.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So what happened when the decision was finally made, or was the decision made to just -- or did the skipper just say we need to hit the brakes here?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well the skipper tried a delaying tactic. He, after a while he learned that if we stopped they would quit firing, and we would started moving again, they would commence firing at us again. He knew that we had classified material that we needed to somehow get rid of, at least make a good attempt, and so to give us more time he went through a delaying tactic, the "start and stop" thing. And during one of the times we stopped, the North Koreans sent a small boat over with fenders rigged to come aboard. Well, when they got to a position where they almost could hook on to us, the skipper started moving again. It was a cat and mouse game for a while. And finally they were shooting us up so bad, and we had several men wounded and one man died as a result of the attack, that the last thing I recall the skipper saying on our intercom was that he wanted the boatswain to go to the fantail to receive boarders. So we knew then that the Koreans were coming aboard our ship. In the meantime, I was enlisted, and they asked all enlisted men to go to our mess decks. And then right before the Koreans boarded -- right after they boarded, somewhere in that time -- the skipper once more come on the intercom and wanted us all to go forward to the well deck which was an open deck corridor just almost to the farthest corner of the ship as you could get. And so we all gathered out there. And that was the first time I saw any of the Korean boarders. And when we got to the well deck, one of the Koreans, a North Korean, came from within the ship out onto the well deck, and he had several bed sheets. And he indicated with pantomime that he wanted us to tear them into strips and to blindfold ourselves, and then we did that. And we were unarmed and he was standing there with a weapon. But I know my thought and probably several of the other crew members was they were going to blindfold us and shoot us, that that was probably the end right there. But of course it did not happen. And what they did later after they blindfolded us, was they took us down into the cruise compartment which was below decks, right below the deck near the open deck we were on. And they had us all just huddled down in there while the North Koreans actually took over our ship. I think they kept a couple of our people in the engine room because they knew how to operate the engines. And they kept one of our boatswains and he was at the helm for a while. But as they approached the port he was taken off and a Korean took over the helm. And I recall they brought us into Wonsan. Normally when you come into port you put fenders over the side to protect the ship from coming up against the pier, but they didn't do that. We could here the ship scraping on the piers they wanted in. And after they got us in and tied us up in their own fashion, then they took us -- they bound us, and they took ropes and tied our arms to our bodies and tied our hands together. And of course I'm already blindfolded, and they led us one at a time up from the cruise compartment across this well deck, the open well deck, and over to the side of the ship. And normally there would be a gangway there that you could take to go ashore. They hadn't taken the time to put the gangway up they just put a couple of planks across and knowing that normally there's some space between the ship and the pier, I was led over to this plank and someone just picked my leg up and put my foot on the porch I realized that I needed to step up on it, and as I stepped up someone put a foot in the middle of my back and pushed me and I fell off the board. Well, I know that there's a space between the ship and the pier and I expected to fall in water, but I fell in gravel. That's how tightly we were up against the pier.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Gosh.

Donald Richard Peppard:

So I fell in gravel.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Any idea how far you fell?

Donald Richard Peppard:

It was almost ground level just a few inches off the ground and then they got us up and they put us into as it turns out several buses, and ultimately they put us on a train and took us across the peninsula, but some of the people were taken directly to the train and buses and some of the group I was with was taken to a building not far from where we were disembarked. And they took us off the buses and as I come off the buses, I was bound and blindfolded, couldn't see what was going on, a bunch of people started just pounding on me, hitting me in the face and upper body and, you know, once again my only thought was this is going to be the end of me, as soon as I fall down they'll just kick me to death, so my main thought then was to just try to keep my feet if I could. And then it seemed as if they were forcibly removed as if someone pulled them away from me and we were led into a building and we sat in there for a long time it seemed like, and without anything really going on.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Still blindfolded?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Still blindfolded, can't see what's going on, don't know whether to talk to the one sitting next to us or not.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Can't communicate?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes. So we had a real problem, and then finally someone in English said, "You have broken our laws and now you will be tried by our laws," and really that was the only thing that transpired in that room. And then they took us back out of the building and we went through the same beating procedure as we went through back on the bus, and again I was set upon by several people pounding on me, and again they were pulled away. And I was put on the bus, and then we were taken to the train. And on the train ride across the peninsula from Wonsan -- Wonsan was a harbor they brought us into at. Pongyang, their capital, was on the west coast of the peninsula, and so the train took us from Wonsan to Pongyang. And on the train they started interrogating the crew, and at first they were taking us one at a time to a small compartment at the end of the car we were in. And they were asking us things that we could answer, they were just asking us name, rank, service number, which we were allowed to give under the Geneva Conventions. So it wasn't really a problem we'd answered what they were asking. And then it seemed to be that it was taking too long to take us one at a time down to the end of the car, so they started just coming around to the car and interviewing -- interrogating, if you will -- the crew. And I recall one of the crew members -- Geneva Convention said you give your name, rank, and date of birth, et cetera, et cetera -- well, this one young man, they asked him his name, rank, and age. They didn't ask him his date of birth, they asked him his age. And he wouldn't tell them his age. And I distinctly remember hearing the hammer being dropped, and he said, "I'm 18." Well, they could have figured it out from his date of birth, but he wasn't going to tell them his age. Anyway, they took us on into Pyongyang and there they took us off the train and they took the blindfolds off and they took our ropes off, our bindings, and had us all stand with our arms in the air while their local press took pictures of us and videos and that type of thing. And then they marched us into more buses and took us the to the first camp.

Alan P. Pendergast:

What were you wearing at the time when you were standing there with your arms up?

Donald Richard Peppard:

I had my Navy dungarees and I was one of the fortunate ones, I also had a foul weather jacket. But some of the guys like the men that were in the engine room, they were in shirtsleeves and it was bitterly cold. But again, I'd had an opportunity to grab a jacket before I left the ship or before they came aboard.

Alan P. Pendergast:

When you looked around and saw the group that you were with, the ones that you were separated from the other group, was there any common denominator with the group that you were with?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Boy.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Or do you think it was just sporadic that they sent one group one way?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Oh. Yeah, I have no idea because I don't know who was with me. When I went to the building I was blindfolded.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So you were back with the entire crew?

Donald Richard Peppard:

The entire crew.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay I misunderstood that. I'm sorry. Okay, so the press took their photos and then what happened? They moved you --

Donald Richard Peppard:

They put us in buses and moved us out to a compound -- a military compound. And again I'm not clear exactly where it was but to me, I think it was kind of closer into Pyongyang than the second compound that we were at. I know it was kind of a dismal place and we were not like in barred cells, we were in rooms, but they seemed to divide us up into four men to a room in as much as they could. The officers, I later learned, were all held singly, solitary. But this room that they put us in, there was a table and four chairs in the middle of the room, four cots, the windows covered with sheets so you couldn't see out the windows. And then there was a bare bulb hanging in the middle of the room and that bulb was on 24 hours a day. There was no switch for it, anyway. I don't know why, I guess they just unwired it when they wanted to turn it off, or unscrewed the bulb.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. The sheet that was covering the window, did that block completely sunlight?

Donald Richard Peppard:

We could not see anything. We could tell when it was day we could tell that it was light outside, but we couldn't distinguish anything because the curtain blocked the view ???? The sheets --

Alan P. Pendergast:

Did they take your watches or anything?

Donald Richard Peppard:

At first they did not. At first they let us keep those things. In fact, I kept my watch right up until we were released. One thing that we learned is that they didn't like watches unless they had numerals on them, and mine was not -- it did not have numerals on it. So those that had watches with numerals lost their watches.

Alan P. Pendergast:

They couldn't use those watches?

Donald Richard Peppard:

I guess not.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So you were put in a four-man room. Now you said there weren't any bars. What was it, just a standard door?

Donald Richard Peppard:

It was not ground level. They moved us up to like the second, third floor of this building and again there was no bars. But we had no idea what the compound was outside other than it was a military installation. So anything outside that window was not very friendly to us. And then I don't know whether they had done it right before we came in or not, but every single one of the rooms had a crack in the door and it just seemed odd that all of them would have it. And we could tell when the guards were marching back and forth because we can see the break in the light as they passed between the crack between the rooms.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And so we realized that we were well guarded as far as their personnel.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So it would have been futile to try to escape through there. Okay, why don't you walk me through a day, if there is such a thing as a standard day there, as far as when you woke up, what you ate, and if you were ever allowed out of your cell and things like that?

Donald Richard Peppard:

That first compound -- and again we were at two compounds -- but the first compound was very dreary, very dismal. And we did not get to leave the rooms except to be interrogated and for the most part I wasn't really bothered that much. They -- we were awakened at six every morning anyway, and we sat all day long in straight-back chairs, and that is all we could do until we were allowed to turn in at night. And the meals were brought to us, such as they were, and that was really our whole lot for about the first six weeks we were there.

Alan P. Pendergast:

What did the meals consist of?

Donald Richard Peppard:

For the entire time we were there we got a bowl of a kind of a soup. We called it a turnip soup, but it was actually a dikon, a radish, that was sliced up in some kind of gruel, and it was the same thing day in and day out. Three times a day they'd bring us a bowl of that. Occasionally we'd get half a slice of bread with it, and there was one day that we didn't know what was going on they brought us the usual bowl of turnip soup and also a small piece of fish and a boiled egg and this was really a big change from what we we'd been getting. And it turned out to be they were celebrating their army's birthday or whatever and then they decided to give us that and they wanted us to know that's why they were celebrating and that was nothing that we would see on a regular basis.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Right.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And that's probably the only thing we had to change from the regular meal for the eleven months we were there.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So then even when you moved after six weeks to the next compound you were still drinking -- eating this turnip soup --

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes.

Alan P. Pendergast:

-- and occasional piece of fish?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Occasional piece of fish. We come to call it sewer trout.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Sewer trout.

Donald Richard Peppard:

But we didn't turn it away, we ate it. We needed the nourishment. We were in pretty sad shape.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Yeah, I imagine. The guys -- I mean, you lost one in the ship there in the encounter --

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes, the encounter.

Alan P. Pendergast:

How about the guys who got injured?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well most of them had wounds but they were not life-threatening wounds. However one of the guys aboard, Steve Wilk, was shot in the groin -- was hit in the groin I guess with shrapnel. He was really bad, and when we got to this first compound -- and again they were throwing us four people into the room -- and they threw Steve in with three of his shipmates with no medical attention and he was really really hurt bad and all that was in the room was a bucket of water and so the other three shipmates were trying their best to dress this wound, you know, to keep it clean or whatever, but he desperately needed medical attention. And finally they did come and take him away and, as it turned out, they took him to a hospital, but we had no idea where Steve was for several weeks, and we didn't know whether he died or if we were ever going to see him again, and eventually they brought him back to the compound with us.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So in the end, the people who did get injured that required medical attention were actually provided that at some point?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well again only if it was Steve was the only one I know that got direct medical attention. I think the rest of the them were left on their own to heal as best they could.

Alan P. Pendergast:

You said you -- how many interrogations did you go through?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, they were kind of sporadic, but the first person they interrogated were the officers. They wanted confessions from the officers and then, having done that, then they brought the confessions that they had taken from the officers and tape-recorded them and brought them to the crew to get them to corroborate that these were the circumstances. And I recall the day they brought a tape into the room where I was with three other crew members and they played a tape of the skipper supposedly confessing to several things he had done and we knew it wasn't true and it was something they had worked up for him to say. But none of us would even admit it was the skipper let alone it was true, and so then they started beating around on us. But we never did admit to them. Then they beat us into submission and left us so they never got even that little bit out of us as far as admitting it was the skipper.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Did you ever hear, I mean if they were doing interrogations down the hall, did you hear --

Donald Richard Peppard:

Oh, we could here the screams down from down the passageways when they had taken people out and were beating them. We know people were getting beaten real bad. But the day they had brought that tape recording of the skipper into the room, they had come back and interviewed us again beyond that first very basic interrogation and the next time around they asked us name, rank, and serial number, and they asked us what our job was and this is a little deviation and but I admitted that I was a typist, and that was the only information I gave them, so they used to refer to me as the typewriter, and when they brought this tape in and asked us to admit that it was the skipper one by one we denied it or (indistinguishable) and that's when one of the North Koreans looked at me and said, "You, the typewriter, you will be shot in the morning," and that's what I went to bed with that night. I didn't sleep very well that night because I knew that they were going to take me out in the morning and shoot me. But it got to the point that as they would take us and interrogate us individually and they would constantly threaten us with death, it got to the point where we would come back to the other shipmates and say, "Guess what? I'm going to be shot in the morning," because we were told that over and over and over. And it got to be more or less a joke, you know, the first couple of times it's pretty serious business.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Yeah. So it's strange how a sense of humor can be kind of warped?

Donald Richard Peppard:

And we needed that. We needed, we needed to try to --.

Alan P. Pendergast:

I imagine so.

Donald Richard Peppard:

Find some humor in the situation.

Alan P. Pendergast:

When -- what was your first indication that you guys were going to be freed?

Donald Richard Peppard:

You know we never really got a solid indication, but there was several times when I thought we were going to be, and at least three occasions before we were actually released they had moved us to a new compound and here they didn't lock the windows. We could see the countryside and that was very barren. There was a huge mound around the compound and it was patrolled by North Koreans at all times, and we could see all that was going on. And then they took us out of the compound and put us on buses and took us into Pyongyang the capital city, and they took us to a theater, and there they had some kind of a stage show going on -- of course, in Korean -- and none of us could understand what was going on and they didn't even bother to try to interpret it for us. But I guess they were just trying to show us some of their culture for some reason, but we noticed when we went out on these outings there would be a crew of the ship in the audience and everyone else in the audience was North Korean army, which we were in there well surrounded with their army. And they took us there and then they took us out a second time and took us to a circus, an indoor arena again I guess to expose us a little bit to their culture. And then they took us to what they called an Atrocities Museum. What it was was they took us down into some bunkers and showed some that the walls were black and supposedly from fire, and they said that that's where we the US troops had taken some of their citizens and burned them, threw them in these bunkers and set them on fire. And they took us also to another what they called a museum and it had some clothing artifacts and things like that, but nothing that would impress you as being anything devastating from a war or anything like that. So that was the third tour. So each time that they would get us ready to go on these things we thought that we were really going to be released, and I kind of think that there were occasions when the talks were going in our favor and maybe we were going to be released, but they'd broken down after they'd already boarded us on the buses so they had to take us someplace.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Take you somewhere to pass the time I guess?

Donald Richard Peppard:

And so the final time when they finally took us out they took us into a several different rooms and had us strip completely bare. Well, we'd been wearing a winter type clothing; they changed our clothing three times, four times a year. Pretty much they took our winter clothing off and they gave us a very light summer-weight clothing to put on. Well, that was strange because it was in December.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Very cold?

Donald Richard Peppard:

But that turned out to be the uniform that we were released in. They gave us brand-new clothing to be released. But they did give us an overcoat to wear, and I remember the kind of sneakers they gave me to wear. I had to curl my toes up to get them inside these things, they were so small for me. But I felt if I could go home I'm getting my feet in them somehow. But I think what had happened is the negotiations in our favor concluded very quickly, quicker than they thought they would, and the clothing they gave us they were planning on giving us that following spring, but that was the only thing they had ready to give us. To wear out.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay, so you're wearing springtime clothing in December and it's probably in the 20s?

Donald Richard Peppard:

It was very cold.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Colder, it was such -- where did they take you?

Donald Richard Peppard:

They put us on two buses and took us into Pyongyang, loaded us onto trains, and took us to Kaesong, which is just north of the Demarcation Zone. The Bridge of No Return's in that area. And they, after we got there, it was an overnight ride. Well, I am not sure we traveled all the night, but we were on a train overnight. And when we got to Kaesong they took us off and boarded us in two buses and took us down to the Bridge of No Return, and General Woodward was the one working on our side. He signed a confession that the North Koreans prepared saying that we had -- admitting that we had intruded and that we had spied on them and different things of that nature, and then he insisted that there should be a final paragraph in there that he was also signing for the release of the crew, because they didn't want that to be part of the --

Alan P. Pendergast:

-- confession, yeah.

Donald Richard Peppard:

-- but so he got his way and had that put on the bottom before he signed it. And then the North Koreans went and cut that part out, put it back together, Xeroxed it and gave us all a copy before they released us. I mean it was something that they did to make themselves happy because later on we could learn what it had actually been. And then they took us one at a time and what they told us they were going to do was at the insistence of the US side, they were to release the skipper first so that he could identify his men as they were coming across. And then the North Koreans -- which they agreed to -- and then the North Koreans said from then on we're going to release the junior person first, and said let everyone -- release everyone in reverse order. So the XO would be the last one to leave. And during the time we were there we had done some things -- we had done some things to discredit them, and one of them was we had kind of pointed to them with our middle fingers, indicating that we were not real happy with the situation, and a lot of the stuff they were doing was not true. And they had noticed that and they asked us, they were curious about why we were extending that middle finger, and we for a long time got away with the explanation that it was a Hawaiian good luck sign. So that went on for quite a while, and -- but then later on they learned what it was and they beat the hell out of us.

Alan P. Pendergast:

They're not very happy at that point.

Donald Richard Peppard:

Not very happy, and they took it out on the entire crew. But they told us as they released us across the Bridge of No Return that we were going to go out in reverse order, and if anyone feels the need to turn around and make any kind of gesture, the rest of the crew will not come across. So it was kind of up to us to make -- to behave ourselves. They put that burden on us in order to get the rest of our shipmates out, although some of them had some thoughts about maybe doing it right before the XO came across.

Alan P. Pendergast:

You guys had never laughed that much.

Donald Richard Peppard:

But he even made it out.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Did you -- were you allowed any correspondence at all with anyone during your captivity?

Donald Richard Peppard:

We were forced to write letters.

Alan P. Pendergast:

And who did you write to?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, they wanted us to write to public officials. They wanted us to write to public officials and tell them that everything the North Koreans said we did was true, and that they should put pressure on the government to get the US to apologize to them and assure them they would never do it again, and then we would be released. Well, we didn't want to write letters like that. And then they decided, well if you want to, you can write your families, but you can tell them that. And then they decided, no, we'll just let you write to your families, just write whatever you want to. And we could tell that that wasn't going to fly. So some of us did get the message we wanted to our families. And like the bottom of my letter, because I knew they were going to come back and suggest some more information be put in my letter. I wrote to my father and at the bottom of it I said, "Say hello to Garba Gefollows, father." And Garba Gefollows says if you put it back together another way says "garbage follows." You just respaced it and it reads "garbage follows." So I said, "Garbage follows, father." And then, sure enough they come back and suggested we add some more information about how well we were treated and that we had really done these dastardly deeds.

Alan P. Pendergast:

But thanks to the cryptologic dark humor--

Donald Richard Peppard:

But almost everyone put some kind of a signal in whatever they wrote.

Alan P. Pendergast:

That's some genius.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And then our families would write to us, but it was all censored. And if there was any good news in the letter, we didn't get it. If it was bad news, they made sure we got it.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So at least you had apparently that one little touch from outside.

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yeah.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So you were, you guys were led across one by one junior person after the skipper across the Bridge of No Return to South Korea?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, into the southern part of the DMZ where we went -- they have a little forward base there, and we were taken into-- we were put into buses and just a couple of blocks to a little -- well in the Navy we call it a gidunk -- a little cafe like. And there they gave us a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a ham and cheese sandwich, which was the best meal we'd had --

Alan P. Pendergast:

In eleven months.

Donald Richard Peppard:

In years. They really wanted to really feed us good, but the doctor said we don't know what condition their stomachs are in. We'd better just take it easy this first meal, and just give them something maybe they can hold down. And then from there they put us into helicopters and flew us to the 121st Air Evac Hospital in Seoul. We stayed overnight in the hospital while they examined us. We got the first shower we'd had in eleven months, and kept us overnight. We had a church service that night. Of course we were fed like royalty. And then the next morning they boarded us into -- I think there were two C141s -- and flew us back. I think we landed in Wake and refueled there, or had just a little break there anyway. And then flew us back to San Diego. But because of the dateline, we left North Korea -- or we left Seoul on the 24th of December and arrived in San Diego on the 24th of December, so we were back for Christmas Eve.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow, that's incredible. When did -- when did it actually sink in to you that finally we're free?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, as soon as we were in US hands, I felt we were free.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Once you were across the line --

Donald Richard Peppard:

I saw those soldiers there with their uniforms and with their buses painted up with the US Army insignia on it and all that I felt that I was finally out of that place.

Alan P. Pendergast:

It must have been a very emotional feeling for --

Donald Richard Peppard:

Absolutely.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Everyone.

Donald Richard Peppard:

Absolutely.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow. And what was the date that you were released again?

Donald Richard Peppard:

23rd of December, 1968.

Alan P. Pendergast:

1968.

Donald Richard Peppard:

We'd been there exactly eleven months to the day.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So you went back to the States and you -- you decided to stay in the Military a little bit longer?

Donald Richard Peppard:

I had 12 years at the time of the capture. And a number of the guys, they were on their first tour of duty, really. And some of their enlistments expired while we were in North Korea. But still they kept us and we all went through a debriefing period, and we certainly were examined at the hospital at length, and in quite a bit of detail. But I was -- they gave us our choice of duty stations as our next duty station except they didn't want any of us involved with the Naval Security Group to go back overseas, they wanted to keep us in the states so I was required to select a stateside duty and my family was still up in Washington state, that's where we started out from. So I went up to Washington state, and I was stationed up there for -- I went up there on a two-year tour and then the commander I was working for wanted me to stay, so I stayed an additional two years, on an extension which was not hard to get at all. And then after that I-- where'd I go from there? To the Philippines, and then from the Philippines back to Washington DC and then I retired.

Alan P. Pendergast:

When did you get married?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, this is my second marriage.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And we were married in December of 1971. But she was not involved while I was in North Korea.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay. Congratulations! Hanging in there a long time now. Thirty years. Were you married at the time you were --

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yes. My first wife was from Germany. I'd married her while I was stationed in Bremerton. And we had three children, and when we come back from San Diego, the Navy brought all the families to San Diego, and put them up in a hotel down there. Actually, a lot of the things that were done for the families was donated by local businesses in San Diego. They gave them rental cars. They couldn't buy food, anyplace they wanted to eat, it was on the house.

Alan P. Pendergast:

So the publicity was really there for the return of all those soldiers?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Yeah. And the families who came down there, and I guess they stayed somewhere around a week or two, and then they went back and they started, you know, checking us out really good as far as medical, and those of us with the security group went through an extensive debriefing, you know, what had happened to the classified materials and what type of interrogations did we have? So that went on for some time. And then they had a court of inquiry while we were there, and we actually didn't get out of San Diego until March.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow.

Donald Richard Peppard:

We were down there that long going through debriefings. But the court of inquiry, they convened five admirals to all the court of inquiry. And out of the court of inquiry they recommended that Commander Bucher and my boss, Lieutenant Harris, who was the CI -- who was the OIC of our security group attachment, that they both be court-martialed because of the loss of classified material and the loss of the ship. And Secretary Chaffee, who was the Secretary of the Navy at the time, and he overturned the court -- the court of inquiry. He said they'd been punished enough and were not going to do that. And so that was completely resolved at that time.

Alan P. Pendergast:

What'd you think of that? What were your personal feelings about that?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, I didn't see where any blame could really be tossed. We were put in a situation by ourselves.

Alan P. Pendergast:

You could have all fought and every -- 83 members?

Donald Richard Peppard:

83 members.

Alan P. Pendergast:

83 members could have died.

Donald Richard Peppard:

83 members. (Indistinguishable) They suggested that maybe we should have scuttled the ship, but those who knew the nature of the ship knew that we couldn't scuttle it. It would have taken hours to scuttle it and by then the North Koreans would have come aboard, and they could have shut it off at any time. So we were not in a position to defend ourselves.

Alan P. Pendergast:

(Indistinguishable) (You were full of information after the fact?) Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about concerning your career or your captivity?

Donald Richard Peppard:

No. It's been a long time. It's been 34 years now since that happened.

Alan P. Pendergast:

You've had a very -- pretty incredible career with the POW Medal, Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon and Navy Commendation Medal, with a "V" for valor. What was the incident concerning the Navy Commendation Medal with a "V"? Was that from --

Donald Richard Peppard:

That was pretty much crew wide, I think.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

As I understand it, we had two Silver Stars come out of it, I think there were three Bronze Stars, and then the Navy Commendation Medal. Now, it did not go to everyone. I think there were three or four crew members that did not receive the award. But quite a large portion of the crew got the Navy Commendation Medal.

Alan P. Pendergast:

You've just explained that the Navy Commendation Medal with a "V," not everyone got it but they did, you know, a couple of Bronze Stars and a couple of Silver Stars, which are very high awards. And what about the Purple Hearts?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, the Purple Heart, somewhere around 11 people that were wounded during the attack, and almost immediately when they were released, they were all given Purple Hearts. And then the Navy decided that we would all get Purple Hearts for maltreatment by the enemy while a prisoner of war. So the entire crew got purple hearts, and some of them ended up with two. One for being wounded while -- during the attack, and then once again during the time they were prisoner of war.

Alan P. Pendergast:

It sounds like some -- it's probably going to be the hardest 11 months of your life, I imagine, with the lack of food, and how often did you get to leave your cell?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, when we got to the new compound, we were logged, in fact, we were taken out each morning for exercise, and I think that was helpful. That benefited us that we did, but then the rest of the day we were just sitting in straight-backed chairs all day long, except when they would take us to interrogate us. So it was 11 months of just sitting.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Were you allowed to communicate with all the men in the room?

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, we did anyway. We were told not to. But unless they were right there with us, we got away with that. One of the things we did while we were in North Korea is when they would take us out for the exercise period, they gave us a volleyball, or a soccer ball I think is what it was, and even though it was round and not suitable for it, we used it to play football.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Okay.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And the North Koreans were not excited at all about us huddling. They didn't like that, they figured we were conspiring or something. And I recall that one of the junior North Korean officers would run over when we got in a huddle and stick his head in the huddle, and about that time we'd break up and hike the ball and run over him. But anyway, they made us stop doing that. Our main exercise was just that -- exercise. We'd do some calisthenics, and a little running, and we had about a half hour in the morning and then it was back in the compound for the rest of the day.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Were you given any reading material or anything at all to --

Donald Richard Peppard:

We were given lots of reading material, real reading material. It was in English so we could read it. Of course, sometimes stilted English, but we could understand what it was. It was strictly propaganda. And we got the Pyongyang Times delivered to our room.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Wow.

Donald Richard Peppard:

And as a matter of fact, when we come back, someone in our government, I don't know what agency did it, but made us copies of all that kind of stuff and gave it to us, so I have a stack of that in my garage. Some of the papers they gave us. So we had that, but it was not interesting reading at all.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Is there anything else you'd like to talk about concerning your careers?

Donald Richard Peppard:

No, except -- outside of that I enjoyed my time in the Navy, else I wouldn't have stayed after I got back. But I did enjoy that and I think I probably got some preferential treatment as far as duty stations when I come back, so I finished up my career and retired and felt good about that.

Alan P. Pendergast:

I would say when you earn it it doesn't really make it preferential, it's something that you deserve. And I'd like to just take this time to thank you.

Donald Richard Peppard:

Well, you're quite welcome.

Alan P. Pendergast:

From the bottom of my heart for all your service.

Donald Richard Peppard:

You're welcome.

Alan P. Pendergast:

Thank you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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