On January 25th in the "On this Day" column we ran this item: Michael Alexander, 21-year-old Richland sailor, was aboard the intelligence ship Pueblo and is a prisoner in North Korea, his parents said. Alexander graduated from Richland High School and has been in the Navy since 1964. While in high school he was well known in the Pacific Northwest among amateur radio operators.
Several of our readers asked for "the rest of the story." Here it is, along with a couple of Associated Press stories relating the release of the prisoners.
Rumors, frustrations end for Richland couple
By Robert Woehler
Herald staff writer
Published on December 23, 1968
A Richland mother and father have received what they consider their most cherished Christmas present, the return of a son from North Korea.
The W. K. Alexanders, 1509 Sanford St., were awakened at 12:20 a.m. Sunday by a telephone call from the Navy in Seattle telling them their son Michael, 22, had been released along with 81 other Pueblo crew members by the North Koreans.
Showing the effects of 11 months of rumors, hopes and frustrations, the Alexanders are holding a check on their emotions until they can confront their son face-to-face.
Alexander, a 25-year resident of Richland, and the father of six, said he and his wife are hoping for a reunion in San Diego with Mike either today, Christmas Eve, or at the latest Christmas Day.
They were awaiting word from the Navy Sunday night on transportation to San Diego.
The 12:10 telephone call was not unexpected because the Alexanders had been alerted by the Navy that release was imminent. "We had built up false hope before by rumors and we were prepared for a let down this time too," said Mrs. Alexander.
The Alexanders received two letters from their son during his captivity. However the contents caused the Alexanders to suspect whether these had truly been written by their son.
"We are aware of the effectiveness of the North Koreans at brain washing and we were naturally apprehensive about that aspect. We really don't know what to expect when we have our first reunion," the father said.
Alexander, a quiet man by nature, said he never doubted his son would eventually be returned by the North Koreans. It was simply a matter of when. "I said when he was captured that he'd be lucky to be back in a year."
An engineer for Douglas United Nuclear, Alexander said he purposely refrained from saying much about the Pueblo before. "I didn't want in any way to harm the negotiations, or give the Communists any extra fuel for their propaganda mill."
"I've probably been one of the most cautious when talking to the press because I'm familiar with security," he said.
Alexander said he had been contacted several times by the Tri-City Herald and once by a reporter from the Boston Globe. Since the release the Alexanders have been telephoned by the Los Angeles Times and by their Washington, D.C., correspondent.
The Alexanders said the two letters received from their son were mailed in March and August. Each letter urged them to contact their senator and congressman, the governor and the press about the Pueblo.
The first letter included a picture of Mike in a group of eight and an individual portrait. All the men in the group picture had rather glum expressions.
The August letter contained another group picture, but this time the men were smiling in what must have been a recreation room because the net of a table tennis table could be seen in the bottom of the picture.
"We sent letters to Mike and he wrote in August that he had received three of them," his mother said. "We restricted our correspondence to personal items and gave as few names as possible."
The first letter the Alexanders believe was an out and out fabrication. Both letters were hand printed and they don't believe it was their son's printing. The August letter did contain some personal information that only Mike could have known, but the tone still sounded phony.
Alexander said he's reluctant to disclose any more about the letters until he's sure Mike's home safe and sound.
"We are a little at loose ends right now," his mother said. She is faced with the prospects of leaving most of her family at home for Christmas so she and her husband can go meet Mike.
"We had already sent Mike a Christmas package to North Korea and I doubt whether he'll be needing what we sent him now. We were limited to what we could send so we restricted ourselves to warm clothes." I don't think he'll have any use for thermal underwear in Southern California," his mother laughed.
The Alexanders say they haven't had time to figure out what they are going to do at Christmas. They hope to shop for a homecoming present prior to meeting Mike.
Mike, a 1964 graduate of Richland High School, was destined to be discharged last spring. He was serving aboard the U.S. communications intelligence ship as a communication technician second class petty officer. "He has been promoted to first class since his detainment and I don't think he's aware of his promotion yet," his father said.
Mike is the youngest of three sons. The Alexanders also have three daughters, all younger than Mike. The eldest is Davis, who works for Boeing. Next, is John who also works for Boeing. There's Mike, then Julia, a beauty operator in Richland, and two girls at home, Becky, 10 and Beth, 7.
John, who entered the Marines the same time Mike joined the navy, had hoped to be discharged at the same time as his brother prior to the Pueblo capture.
Alexander, since the seizure of the ship, has kept in constant touch with the Navy. He even visited the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C. to discuss the situation and was a frequent caller to the Navy in Seattle, Spokane and Washington, D.C.
"As far as we know the Navy has been square with us and has told us the straight story on what happened. We believe the ship did not intrude into North Korean waters as the Communists say," Alexander said.
Alexander said he is satisfied the approach followed by the United States in the incident was, in the end, the best possible choice. "We could have gone in with force, but that would have cost lives. Now we have all of them back except for one and I don't think the U.S. lost any world prestige and neither did North Korea score the big propaganda victory they were anticipating."
The Alexanders were glued to their TV set in their modern Richland home Sunday night watching a special about the Pueblo release when a picture flashed across the tube showing the crew doing exercises. Mr. Alexander remarked that Mike was the one with glasses on the right side of the tube.
Mike, who was a ham radio operator before he joined the Navy, will have a tidy sum of back Navy pay waiting for him. The Alexanders don't know how long the debriefing and interrogation would last, but hoped Mike would be home within a month.
Richland also had another interest in the Pueblo because the wife of an officer aboard the ship had been staying with her brother in Richland awaiting word of the release since August.
She is Mrs. Steven R. Harris, sister of Viekko O. Uotinen, on Marshall Ave.
Mrs. Harris' husband, a lieutenant, is a member of the crew scheduled to be reunited with their families Christmas Eve. Mrs. Harris has left for San Diego.
"We are thrilled by the news," said Mrs. Uotinen, when contacted today. "This is the nicest kind of Christmas present." She did not know whether the lieutenant and his wife would stop off in Richland after he is released by the Navy.
Published on December 24, 19681/24/1968
Pueblo families set for reunion
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (AP) -- Wives and children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters are here for a Christmas Eve reunion with the 82 surviving crewman of the USS Pueblo.
The families have been flown at Navy expense to meet the men released Sunday after 11 months as captives of North Korea.
The first of two giant jets carrying the crew was to set down at Miramar Naval Air Station at 1 p.m. PST.
First on the agenda were brief, public reunions between crewman and their loved ones. Next were a Navy-arranged, news conference, and intelligence debriefing and medical checkups at the San Diego Naval Hospital.
The debriefing and medical checks will last an indefinite period of time. Before they start, however, families will have an hour in private at the hospital.
The navy readied a comfortable temporary home at the "Pink Palace," a plain four-story hospital corpsmen's school building in a quiet corner of the grounds. Out of the school dormitory went double-bunked beds. In went single beds, carpets, writing desk and overhead lighting.
That was one part of Operation Breeches Buoy, the Navy's code name for plans developed months ago. The plan was named for the device that carries people from one ship to another at sea.
The Navy said the crew could be at the hospital from two weeks to two months and whether any could leave the hospital for Christmas along with their families would depend on their physical condition.
Families began arriving Monday morning at the municipal airport. The Navy said it paid $25,475 for tickets for the first 43 families and said it knew of 167 dependents who plan to come. But, a spokesman noted, that dozens of others might come on their own, and would be taken care of also.
Published on December 25, 1968
Joy, tears share faces of Pueblo crew, families
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (AP) -- Looking wan and tired, but radiating happiness through their tears, the men of the Pueblo returned to American soil on Christmas Eve after 11 months in North Korean captivity.
All but one of the 83 crew members of the U.S. intelligence ship captured Jan. 23 stepped from the two big jets that brought them from Seoul into the arms of overjoyed parents, wives and children.
The body of Fireman Duane D. Hodges of Cresswell, Ore., was carried off a plane by an honor guard. He was fatally injured when the ship was seized.
The survivors, said rear Adm. Edwin M. Rosenberg, were all "suffering to some degree from malnutrition" and 20 to 30 percent bore physical as well as mental scars. Then, at a new conference at which the ship's captain, Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, did not appear, Rosenberg abruptly cut off detailed questioning.
Because the crew must answer questions before an official board of inquiry. Rosenberg said, "they should not be put on trial here."
At an airport ceremony after the planes touched down, Bucher was interrupted quietly several times by Vice Adm. Allen M. Shinn, commander of the Pacific Fleet Naval Air Force, and reportedly cautioned not to go into detail about the capture or captivity.
President Johnson sent a message to the crew expressing "deepest satisfaction" with their return and later ordered an urgent investigation of reports that the crewmen were beaten while in captivity.
The crewmen, after private reunions with their loved ones were taken to a naval hospital where they face intensive questioning in the days ahead.
But today, Christmas, was set aside for Protestant and Roman Catholic services and a big turkey dinner.