Oliver North

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "The United States won the Cold War without ever firing a shot." It's a claim I've never understood.

Though our victory was secured without a cataclysmic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, it took a terrible toll on American lives, limbs and treasure. From battlefields in Korea, Vietnam, Central America and the Middle East -- and in the shadowy world of espionage -- the Cold War was only "cold" to those who didn't fight in it.

Last week, Cmdr. Lloyd "Pete" Bucher, USN, one of the most courageous of those "Cold Warriors," passed from this veil of tears -- a loss barely noted by my colleagues in the media. On Jan. 23, 1968, Pete Bucher was in command of the USS Pueblo, a surveillance ship that was attacked and captured by North Korea in international waters. Captain and crew were held captive for 11 months, brutally beaten and deprived of sleep, food and medical care. Their ignominious treatment wasn't much better after they returned home.

The story of Pete Bucher is an American saga. Born in 1927, and orphaned as an infant, he was a ward of the state until adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Austin Bucher. But they, too, died during Pete's childhood, and once again he was remanded to a state home. Finally, in 1940, Pete learned about Boys Town in Nebraska by watching Spencer Tracy portray Father Edward Flanagan. Pete wrote to the real Father Flanagan, who responded with a train ticket. Pete would later explain, "Boys Town was the only home that I ever had."

After joining the Navy and working his way up the ranks, Bucher hoped to command a submarine. Instead, he was given the helm of the USS Pueblo, a 176-foot, World War II-era converted cargo vessel, a "flat bottomed and hard-riding ship," according to Pete. The Pueblo carried electronic and radio equipment to intercept communications and gather intelligence. On the eve of its maiden, and only, voyage, Rear Adm. Frank Johnson cautioned Bucher, prophetically, "Remember, you are not going out there to start a war."

The Pueblo's orders were to cruise well off the eastern coast of North Korea, part of a top-secret mission called "Operation Clickbeetle." But by the time the Pueblo arrived off the coast of Korea in January 1968, the uneasy armistice that had prevailed since the end of the Korean War was fraying. The North Koreans were actively infiltrating agents into South Korea, and when they attempted to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung Hee, nobody bothered to notify the Pueblo.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.