He was just 19 years old, and he was there. Judge Thadeus Buczko of Salem, former Essex County probate judge and state auditor, entered the Navy as a young man at 18 and served as a crew member onboard the USS Bearss DD654 (pronounced “Barse”), a destroyer that was part of Task Force 92 serving in the North Pacific, along with the light cruisers Concord, Richmond, Trenton and other destroyers.
The Bearss participated in eight sea strikes, sinking two enemy vessels and damaging a third, while not losing a single man. As part of Task Force 92, the destroyer bombarded the Kuril Islands on the eve of the cessation of hostilities with Japan. (Just days before, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been devastated by American atomic bombs). According to military historians, that Aug. 15 night in the Kuril Islands is when the “last shot” of the war was fired.
But was it?
Task Force 92 now headed to the Aleutian Islands, where the fleet would prepare for the occupation of Japan. There, the USS Concord (named for the town that, along with Lexington, was the site of the opening of the Revolutionary War) realized one of its guns still held live ammunition because it had misfired. The ship was given permission to fire — “and THAT was the real ‘last shot’ of the war,” Buczko explains.
“Years later,” Buczko remembers, “a VFW magazine article titled ‘WWII’s Last Shot’ caught my attention because it was the first time I realized that I was present when the author documented that the last shot of World War II was fired as part of the operations of Task Force 92 in the Sea of Okhotsk and, more specifically, that it was the shot fired by the USS Concord during our shore bombardment of Shasukotan Island (part of the Kuril Islands chain) on Aug. 15, 1945.”