SARASOTA - A Sarasota man who spent 11 months in captivity in North Korea wants to bring his Navy ship back to the U.S. from behind enemy lines.
Richard Rogala served aboard the USS Pueblo when it was captured in 1968. He was released, but the Pueblo wasn't - it's still in North Korea.
Rogala is part of a group of Pueblo veterans who want the ship to come home. He has started a letter-writing campaign to several lawmakers, imploring them to take action on reclaiming the ship.
"For a while it did not bother me," he said. "But as I get older, it's like my wish in life to get the ship back as long as I'm still living. That would be just such a wonderful thing to happen."
The Pueblo is still listed as a commissioned Navy vessel, the only one being held by a foreign nation.
The ship is expected to be unveiled this week as the centerpiece of a renovated war museum to commemorate what North Korea calls "Victory Day," the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War.
The ship is North Korea's greatest Cold War prize. Its government hopes the Pueblo will serve as a potent symbol of how the country has stood up to the great power of the United States, once in an all-out ground war, and now, with its push to develop the nuclear weapons and sophisticated missiles it needs to threaten the U.S. mainland.
A North Korean sub seized the Pueblo on Jan. 23, 1968. Rogala, a Navy reservist from Chicago, was on mess hall duty when it happened.
Although the ship was conducting intelligence operations, crew members say that most of them had little useful information for the North Koreans. That, according to the crew, didn't stop them from being beaten severely during interrogations. Rogala and the crew were held for 11 months in harsh conditions before they were released.
Rogala said that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder to this day.
"Every time I hear the words 'North Korea,' it's a sign of what happened to me," Rogala said.
The planned display of the ship angers Rogala, who would like nothing more than to see the vessel back in the U.S.
"Like me and several other crew members, it would put the event behind us," Rogala said. "It's still out there lingering. Everything that happens daily with North Korea is a part of my life, knowing that that ship is there."
Eric Talmadge contributed from Pyongyang, North Korea.