A real American hero and Pottsville native has died.
According to information from WJCS-FM, Frank Ginther died on Monday. He was 76.
The headline on the announcement reads, “Frank has joined the ranks of the ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’.”
American Hero Frank Ginther, Former North Korean POW
It’s likely you never heard of Frank Ginther until now.
Ginther was born in Pottsville in 1943. He followed in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the U.S. Navy the day after he graduated from high school. “There was no question about it. I was destined to go to the Navy,” he said to writer Vicki Bezems for LifestylesOver50.com several years ago.
It’s that decision that eventually led to his life-changing moment.
Ginther signed up for a new job in the Navy at the time called “communications technician” and by the time he completed training, was aboard the USS Pueblo. The USS Pueblo is a former Army cargo ship used in World War II. The Navy converted the ships into intel-gathering vehicles at sea.
In 1967, Ginther and the crew of 83 aboard the USS Pueblo set sail for Japan. They got tasked with monitoring Soviet shipping activity off the coast of Asia.
Soon though, it would be lessons he learned back home at Sunday School that would help him endure 11 months of Hell:
“God is love” and “Jesus never fails”.
Trouble at Sea
On the morning of January 22, 1968, after being observed the day prior by a pair of North Korean fishing boats, attack vessels representing the Hermit Kingdom pounced on the USS Pueblo. Gunfire from the Koreans at the Americans wounded a dozen soldiers.
As they were hurriedly destroying any intel on board, a cannon blast killed one American sailor.
Eventually, everyone left were captured by the North Koreans.
Tortured and Beaten
Those stories you hear today about North Korean treatment of prisoners? They’re all rooted in history.
In fact, the torture and humiliation Ginther and his fellow crew from the USS Pueblo eventually endured in captivity is the brain child of Kim Il-sung. He’s the grandfather of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-Un. And the General in charge of the North Korean military at the time? That was Kim Jong-Il, former “Supreme Leader” of North Korea.
After being herded from the USS Pueblo, the crew found themselves in a remote area of the country at a military training ground.
For months, Ginther and others were beaten mercilessly. North Korean captors interrogated the Americans constantly, often turning them against each other. And they wanted our soldiers to confess they’d entered enemy waters.
In that interview with LifestylesOver50.com, Ginther detailed the torture he endured. That included being forced to hold a chair above his head. When his arms tired and the chair lowered, the captors would beat Ginther.
Ginther says he and the crew of the USS Pueblo eventually signed documents that secured their release. It was enough to appease the North Koreans but no one ever admitted it was a confession of wrongdoing.
Today, the USS Pueblo remains in North Korean custody. They actually still have it on display outside Pyongyang and give tours to tell the tale of the time they defeated the Americans.
Ginther Returns Home
The members of the USS Pueblo did come home 11 months after their capture, on December 23, 1968.
President Lyndon Johnson organized their release from captivity. And the soldiers were first greeted on U.S. soil by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan.
Ginther was eventually awarded the Prisoner of War Medal for his ordeal in North Korea.
But he allowed his faith to guide him in his time during and after military service.
Before enduring a surgery in November 2017, Ginther had been the manager at WJCS-FM in Allentown. That’s a non-profit Christian format radio station.
WFMZ-TV expressed their condolences on Ginther’s death. WJCS broadcast out of the same building as WFMZ. In a report, the station says, “The Lehigh Valley has lost a war hero, and we here at WFMZ have lost a friend. Frank Ginther will be missed.”
Here’s another remembrance of Ginther from The Center Lehigh Valley:
Here are the funeral arrangements for Ginther, who will be buried at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery:
Viewing on July 16 at Cantelmi Long Funeral Home from 5-8 pm. The funeral home is at 500 Linden Street, Bethlehem.
Private burial services at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery on July 17.
Memorial Service at Calvary Baptist Church on July 27 at 10 am. The church is at 5300 Green Pond Road, Easton.
Images: USSPueblo.org, WJCS.org