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.”
After the “last shot” event took place, the USS Bearss returned to the Aleutian Islands to check the ship for damage and to train for the final phase of the war. At that time, they were notified that they would be taking on Japanese officers to transport them to the signing ceremony of U.S. Naval Emergency Occupation Order No. 1.
“I was top side when the Japanese officers came on board,” Buczko recalls, “manning the search lights.”
The Japanese officers included Japanese Vice Admiral Kenji Ugai, Rear Admiral Densuke Kanome, Lt. General Toshimoto Hoshino, and other Japanese naval, army and civil delegations to the flagship of U.S. Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, where they signed the Emergency Occupation Order No. 1 “in advance of occupation forces for Northern Honshu and Hokkaido,” according to accounts of the day.
Buczko concluded his WWII military service onboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway. He returned to the U.S. on Dec. 7, 1945, to San Diego. From there, he passed through the Panama Canal and landed in Charleston, S.C. Finally, two days before Christmas, Buczko returned to his hometown of Salem.
He went on to receive a doctorate in law from Boston University after receiving his B.A. from Norwich University (with honors).
Buczko entered military service again by joining the Army in 1949, eventually serving as a unit tank commander with the Third Armored Division and as assistant staff judge advocate for the division. For his service after retiring from active duty, Buczko received the Meritorious Service Medal. In the Army Reserves, Buczko served with the 304th Armored Calvary Regiment, commanded the 357th Civil Affairs Brigade and served as chief of staff of the 94th Army Reserve Command, which was composed of 10,000 soldiers in 100 reserve units in New England.
Buczko served as Massachusetts state auditor for 30 years and as an Essex County Probate and Family Court judge for 15 years. He is credited with bringing the (fellow Polish) Pope to Boston in 1979. He continues to reside in Salem.
Bonnie Hurd Smith is a Salem historian.