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Honor Guards : For Those Touched by War, Memorial Day Is Chance to Remember : The One Who Died

In 28 years of service to the military, retired Navy Cmdr. Lloyd (Pete) Bucher knew scores of men, many of whom died in the line of duty, many of whom would spend the rest of their lives coping with a wound or injury.

Bucher fought in World War II, in Korea and in Vietnam, and he knew many men for whom the lasting scar of battle was the terror that war leaves in the mind.

But in the idle moments that come when he’s at home, in the San Diego suburb of Poway, or sitting at an easel--Bucher these days is a painter--he thinks mostly of one man.

And on Memorial Day, his thoughts are riveted to that man: Duane Hodges, the only one of 83 crewmen to have died on the spy ship Pueblo.

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Hodges died when the ship was shelled by North Koreans on Jan. 23, 1968. The Pueblo, armed with two machine guns, offered little resistance. Bucher ordered crewmen to destroy secret documents. Four were injured; only Hodges died. After their capture, Bucher and 82 survivors were held hostage for 11 months.

A court-martial was considered at one time for Bucher, who always maintained that his confession was forced and that the ship was in international waters at the time it was seized.

Early this month, Bucher and the Pueblo crew received POW commendations. It took an act of Congress and 22 years to get them. (Long before, Hodges had been awarded a posthumous Silver Star.)

“He was carrying out my orders to destroy classified information when he was killed,” Bucher said with a sigh. “He was throwing classified information over the side of the ship. He was hit by cannon fire. . . . He died a few minutes later. Others were hit, but he was the only one . . . who was killed.”

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Bucher, 62, said he’s never felt guilt for what happened to Hodges, a man in his early 20s from a small town in Oregon. It’s more a sense of “grief, sadness, fear,” he said. “It could have happened to any one of us, or more than one of us.

“Every time Memorial Day comes around, I think not just of Duane and what he did for his country, but for all of the people who have died and been wounded and otherwise incapacitated in the service of our country. I think particularly of those who have died in times of conflict, whose deaths have ramifications for the preservation of freedom and the extension of that freedom to millions of others less fortunate.”


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