KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - If you had met Mike Barrett, his widow said, "You would have liked him. He loved to talk."
He might have shared with you his Irish heritage or told you about his kids -- but there was another chapter in Barrett's life that he didn't talk about often, his widow Claudia Barrett said.
Mike Barrett of Kalamazoo served in the US Navy. In 1968, he was unwittingly thrust onto to the world stage in what would become one of the biggest battles of the Cold War.
On Jan. 23, 1968, Barrett's ship, the USS Pueblo, was attacked by the North Korean Navy.
Roy Stafford was 19 and was on board the USS Enterprise when that attacked happened.
"I said, 'Mike, we could see you on the horizon,'" Stafford recalled.
Stafford says he thinks the Enterprise -- an aircraft carrier -- could have affected a rescue. But it was ordered to stand down.
"And that is something that bothers me to this friggin' day," Stafford said.
The Pueblo was captured and 82 crew members were taken prisoner.
Barrett's daughter Susanne Porter, remembers her mother reading the morning paper the day it was announced the Pueblo had been captured.
"She comes in the kitchen sits down on at the counter chair and just started crying. I was five years old and I remember it to this day," she said. "And I didn't really understand but I knew that my dad was gone."
The 82 men were constantly beaten and tortured as the North Korean government sent photos to the US that portrayed humane treatment. The crew of the Pueblo kept up their morale by giving North Koreans with the middle-finger salute. They had convinced the guards it was Hawaiian for good luck. When Time magazine published the photo, the North Koreans learned what that gesture really meant.
"And they went through what they called Hell Week and were all severely beaten continuously," Claudia Barrett said.
After 11 months, the 82 men were and forced to sign a full confession. Capt. Lloyd Bucher signed the document with his fingers crossed in an act of defiance.
On Christmas Eve 1968, Barrett returned to San Diego a changed man.
"And my mother went out there to receive him and he was shell shocked. He was a different man. She just didn't know him any more," said Porter.
Barrett's first marriage became a casualty of the Pueblo Affair.
Eventually, Barrett married Claudia. That marriage made Barrett and Roy Stafford, who had stood aboard the USS Enterprise and watched the capture of the Pueblo, brothers-in-law.
"Isn't it a small world," said Stafford. "We ended up marrying sisters."
Barrett and Claudia were wed 26 years before Barrett died last Thursday at the age of 75. He was interred Wednesday at Fort Custer with full honors.
Today, 45 years later, the USS Pueblo still sits in a harbor in North Korea used as a museum and tourist attraction. She is the only ship in US history that remains captive.
Porter, meanwhile, remembers her father with pride.
"My dad was definitely history. He's a piece of history, for sure, and I am very proud of him," she said.
Memorial donations may be made in Barrett's name to the Kalamazoo Alano Club
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