Russell was one of 83 Americans held captive inside North Korea, following the seizure of the USS Pueblo spy ship in international waters, on January 23, 1968.
For weeks they were kept in a sparse, freezing-cold building they nicknamed
"the Barn." It had no running water and was infested with rats and bed bugs. Inside, the men were denied sleep, forced into stress positions, whipped and beaten. Their officers, particularly Lloyd Bucher, the ship's commander, came in for vicious punishments, as their interrogators demanded they sign "confessions" stating they were illegally spying in North Korean territorial waters when they were captured.
Like today, 1968 was a period of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The war that led to the division of the country had only stopped 15 years earlier and bloody skirmishes were still common.
The crew were terrified of the North Koreans. During one interrogation, after Petty Officer Donald McClarren refused to sign a confession, his guard pulled out a gun, put it to McClarren's head and pulled the trigger. The unloaded weapon clicked, and McClarren passed out.
Mock executions like this were routine, as were beatings which seemed like they would never end.
That night in the forest, as Russell shivered and slipped on the icy ground, he became ever more convinced the end had come.