SALT LAKE CITY — While many may see their 21st birthday as a symbol of new social freedom, 70-year-old Dale E. Rigby remembers his 21st birthday for the time he was spent in North Korean captivity.
Rigby, a Clearfield native, was a baker aboard the USS Pueblo in 1968. On Jan. 23, he and 82 other Navy crewmen were surrounded by North Korean military vessels. Chased by a pair of fighter jets, three subchasers and two patrol boats, and with only a single working machine gun and no help on the way, the crew of the USS Pueblo was outgunned, outmaneuvered and forced to surrender.
For the next 11 months, Rigby said he was held under brutal prisoner conditions by his North Korean captors.
"There was a lot of animosity toward us," he said, noting the country's remaining bitterness toward Americans, even after the open hostility of the Korean War ended with the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement.
Rigby and the rest of the crew were eventually released on Dec. 23, 1968. The ship was never returned.
Rigby said it became a politically awkward diplomatic situation for the U.S. to recognize them as prisoners of war from the Korean War.
But he said it took him even longer to learn to personally forgive his captors.
"I hold no animosity toward the Korean people, any of them," Rigby said. "But it took me a long, long time to get to that point."
He said through personal faith he has learned to include the Korean people in his prayers in hopes that the continued tension between North Korea and the U.S. will one day be resolved.
On Tuesday, Rigby was recognized by the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs and the governor’s office as one of 16 former prisoners of war from Utah.
Loren Miller, the director for the Department of Veteran's Affairs Salt Lake Regional Office, helped organize the event as an opportunity to preserve the legacy of Utah's servicemen.
Miller said his biggest regret in life is that he never got the chance to talk with his grandfather, a World War II bomber pilot, about the man's service.
"For those of you who have been put in this room, I would encourage you to share your legacy with your loved ones," Miller said.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox also spoke at the ceremony and shared his gratitude for Utah's servicemen and servicewomen and to the families who stay behind while soldiers are sent away.
"I can't even begin to imagine what it was like to be a prisoner of war, and I'm not here to tell you that I get it because I know I don't," Cox said. "But I am here on behalf of the 3 million citizens of Utah to say, 'Thank you for your sacrifice.'"
The ceremony recognized World War II prisoners including Raymond E. Bailey, Phil Carter, Theodore Kampf, Robert Monson, Jose. R. O'Cana, Calvin Perkins, Ernest Poulson and Clare Oliphant. Raymond L. Yoss, Jack J. Gifford and Charles C. Howard were among the Korean War prisoners recognized, and Lynn R. Beens, Jay C. Hess, Jay Hess and Richard G. Burgess were Vietnam War prisoners.