Vice Adm. Harold G. Bowen Jr., 87, Pueblo investigator

September 04, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Vice Admiral Harold G. Bowen Jr., an Annapolis native who presided over the Navy's investigation into one of the most wrenching episodes in its history - the seizure of the electronic surveillance ship Pueblo by North Korea - died on Aug. 17 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 87.

The Pueblo was given up by its skipper, Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher, without firing a shot when it came under attack on Jan. 23, 1968, off the North Korean coast.

While operating in international waters and, according to the U.S. government, monitoring coastal radar stations and submarine movements, the Pueblo was fired upon by North Korean boats. With only two machine guns for defense, 10 crewmen wounded and one killed, Bucher allowed his ship to be boarded and taken to the port of Wonsan.

The 82 surviving crewmen were taken captive and classified documents were seized despite a frantic effort by the Pueblo's crew to destroy all secret materials. The crewmen were held for 11 months, subjected to beatings, then released when a U.S. general in Korea, acting on behalf of the Pentagon, signed a confession, which he at the same time repudiated, stating that the Pueblo had been spying inside North Korean territorial waters.

Admiral Bowen was president of a naval court of inquiry that held two months of hearings on the Pueblo affair in Coronado, Calif., in the winter of 1969. The panel of five admirals heard testimony from 104 witnesses, including Commander Bucher, who maintained "we did not have the power to resist" and said he had surrendered the ship to save the lives of his crew.

The Bowen panel recommended unanimously that Commander Bucher undergo a general court-martial - the most serious form of military trial - to face charges arising from the loss of his ship and classified documents. It also recommended disciplinary action against two other officers on the Pueblo and two officers in the Navy's Pacific command.

In May 1969, Navy Secretary John H. Chafee ruled that no one would be punished. He said that the Pueblo officers "have suffered enough" and that the inability to anticipate the attack reflected a general failure in the Navy command.

When he presided over the inquiry, Harold Gardiner Bowen Jr. was commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's Anti-submarine Warfare Force, having spent more than three decades in the Navy.

The son of an admiral, he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1933, fourth in his class, and received a master's degree in metallurgical engineering in 1942 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He served in the South Pacific during World War II and during the Korean War.

He was deputy chief of naval operations for research and development from 1965 to 1967, when he was promoted to vice admiral.

He retired from the Navy in 1972.

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