By KAREN LA PIERRE

klapierre@dailynews.net

The capture and boarding of the USS Pueblo, which was an unarmed spy vessel eavesdropping on the Russian activities, by the North Koreans in 1968 was a significant event during the Vietnam War -- and particularly so for Navy veterans.

The event occurred just prior to the start of the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.

Alvin Plucker, guest speaker at the upcoming American Legion Christmas dinner, experienced those events firsthand. The quartermaster was 22 at the time, and those 11 months he spent in custody of the North Koreans changed his life.

Plucker was one of the 70 enlisted men and six officers. One soldier died in the attack, and 20 were wounded. The Pueblo is still in the custody of North Korea today, but remains a commissioned U.S. vessel.

The conditions were extremely difficult.

"At first, it was 5 degrees," Plucker said. "We were blind-folded, subjected to severe cold weather, interrogated, undernourished and beaten.

"I lost a lot of weight. It was hard to take. It was hard to come to terms with the inhumanity.

"I never realized there were so many cruel people in the world," said Plucker, who lives in Colorado.

He had two months left in his four-year enlistment when he entered captivity.

He continues to suffer from back and hand problems and post-traumatic stress.

Plucker will speak at the American Legion Christmas dinner at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at Hays American Legion. The cost is $15 each and is open to the public because of the nature of the speaker.

Reservations must be made by Dec. 5 by calling (785) 498-9066. Chapter members will receive their meal free of charge.

"The capture of the Pueblo was quite a deal," said John Pyle, vice president of Hays American Legion. "It's pretty interesting. I was in the Navy when it happened. It has a special meaning for Navy guys."

"You will definitely want to attend this year's Christmas dinner and program. You may not recognize his name, but you will never forget it after you hear him speak."

This is the 11th year for the event, which features an all-you-can-eat buffet. There will be two types of meat, potatoes and gravy, vegetables and rolls, along with tea or coffee.

"It's a great meal," Pyle said.

To hear about the events and hardships experienced by the crew and their survival will make the evening an unforgettable night, Pyle said.