As an Army Captain in 1968, I was in Korea on my second overseas deployment and the aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. Walter M. Higgins, chief of staff of the US Eighth Army. We were assigned to the Yongsan Army compound which was the headquarters of the UN Command in Seoul, Korea. On Jan. 23, 1968, I took an alert call for the general requiring his presence in the Eighth Army tactical operations center located several floors below ground. When we arrived we could hear conversations on the radio between the crew of the USS Pueblo and the Navy. The gist of those radio communications, as I recall, was that the Pueblo was under attack by North Korean gunboats and was requesting assistance. There was little aid to be sent by US forces stationed in Korea that day. No US Air Force or Navy tactical aircraft were within range of the attack. The only armed aircraft ready to fly in time to assist the Pueblo were South Korean jet fighters out of Osan Air Base, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, 64 km (40 mi) south of Seoul. .
General Charles H Bonesteel III was commander of all military forces/operations in South Korea; Commander of United Nations Command-Korea; and Commanding General, Eighth U.S. Army. I had watched and listened to General Bonesteel for several months in staff meetings and at social settings. Without question, he was the smartest general officer I ever encountered. He had a mind like a steel trap and the staff officers who work for him were well aware of the small details of operations in his command that he followed. Those who briefed him and exaggerated numbers or tried to “wing the answers” to his questions that they did not know were quickly disabused of the tactic.
General Bonesteel immediately recognized that he could start World War III if he made the wrong decision. It was his call to not order the South Korean Jets into the air that day. We were all a little disappointed but as I look back on that decision in light of the history since, it looks to me like the correct one.
In a module that I do on the Cold War for my students we spend a little time on the Pueblo incident. A book I use and have read several times is Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo, Dec 3, 2013, by Jack Cheevers. I recommend it if you are interested in additional details but the article below will give you a Cliff Notes version of the incident.