Other war ships claimed to have fired the last shot of World War II, but that distinction goes to the USS Concord CL-10, a four-stack light cruiser named for the Massachusetts town where the first ordered shot of the American Revolution-“the shot heard ’round the world”-was fired.
“I had no idea I was present for this historic event,” Thaddeus Buczko of Salem, Massachusetts, told me in a recent interiew, “until I read about it many years later in a veterans’ magazine.” At the time, 19-year-old Buczko was serving in the U. S. Navy aboard the USS Bearss (pronounced “barce”). The Bearss was one of the destroyers that comprised Task Force 92 serving in the Northern Pacific Ocean, along with the light cruisers Concord, Richmond, and Trenton.
By 15 August 1945, Nazi Germany had surrendered to the Allied Forces in Europe (8 May), and atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki, Japan (9 August). Did Buczko and his shipmates have a sense that the war was ending? “No,” Buczko says. “We heard that the Germans had surrendered, but we were all the way over in the Pacific. We were still at war. We heard about the bombs being dropped in August, but we were unaware of the consequences and had no idea what was going to happen next. We were still under orders.”
On 15 August 1945, Task Force 92 bombarded shipping and shore installations in the Japanese Kuril Islands. The Concord was tasked with opening fire on Shasukotan Island, firing “salvo after salvo” with her six-inch “twin guns” and the five-inch guns of the Task Force’s destroyers, including the Bearss, according to the account by Fred A. Lumb that Thaddeus Buczko read years later.
Lumb continues: “At last Capt. C. A. Rumble, commanding the Concord and the little task group, gave the ceasefire order. The destroyers’ guns became silent. About a minute later, Lt. Comdr. Daniel Brand, the gunnery officer, high aloft in forward fire control, saw to it that one more round was fired by the Concord.” Because the last shot had mis-fired just before the ceasefire went into effect, the ship had to receive special permission from the Task Force Commander to fire one last time rather than retrieve the ammunition manually. That was the last shot of the war.
Ensign Robert P. Crossley of the Concord described what happened next: “News of Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam Surrender terms… was received aboard the Concord by radio as she steamed toward the Aleutians following the Navy’s final offensive strike against Japanese territory… the shot heard ’round the world from the Musket of the Minutemen of Concord and Lexington on April 19, 1775 had re-echoed with even greater fury and meaning as this proud bearer of the minuteman tradition fired the final naval gun salvo of World War II, a few seconds after 8:06 p. m. (Japan time).”
Fred Lumb concludes: “Within the hour, Ens. Robert Crossley was in the coding room, just off the radio shack, typing Concord’s claim to having fired the last American shot of the war.” The Navy soon verified their claim.
The crew aboard the Bearss received the news of Japan’s surrender by loud speaker, with very few details. Buczko recalls, “Even when we were informed that the Japanese had surrendered, we wondered if the Japanese ships and pilots out there knew it. We were still ever-vigilant. We could still be attacked.”
As for hearing the war was over? “We were all just matter-of-fact,” Buczko says. We were very tired. There was no elation, no jubilation, like you hear about everyone in the States.” In the Aleutian Islands, the Bearss and the Concord repaired damage to the ships, re-supplied, re-armed, and prepared for orders. They prepared for boarding parties. “We knew we were going in,” Buczko explains, “but we didn’t know when or how.”
On 2 September 1945, the Japanese and Americans signed the official surrender document aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
In the Aleutian Islands, orders came for the Bearss and the Hood, another destroyer in the Task Force, to rendezvous with a Japanese ship carrying the emissaries who would sign U. S. Naval Emergency Occupation Order No. 1. The Order would turn over the Ominato Guard District Area to the United States, specifically: “That portion of the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido between Latitudes Forty Degrees and Thirty minutes and Forty-two Degrees North and between Longitudes 139 degrees and 142 degrees East is hereby declared the Ominato Guard District Emergency Occupation Zone.”
The Bearss and Hood rendezvoused with the Japanese delegation’s ship in the Tsugaru Straits, “a fifteen-mile-wide body of water separating the northern coast of Honshu and the Island of Hokaido,” Quartermaster Edwin E. Douglass wrote in his account of the day.
QM Douglass continues: “The Japanese crew had painted a white cross on their ship’s funnel, the emblem of surrender. As the ships approached each other, it was indeed a tense moment for every man aboard until the Japanese raised the international code of flags giving us assurance her intentions were strictly peace loving.” Even so, while one of the Hood’s small boats went out to transport the emissaries to the Bearss, the Bearss and the Hood circled the Japanese ship, guns trained on their potential target. The Bearss also took on U. S. Marines and media personnel. While everyone boarded the Bearss, Buczko was top-side manning two 36″ search lights, observing it all, but having “no idea of what was going on,” he remembers.
The Japanese ship guided the Bearss and the Hood through the heavily mined Tsugaru Straights into Matsu Bay for occupation duty. “When we pulled in,” Buczko recalls, “I remember observing Japanese people abandoning the city in haste for the mountains, carry their belongings or using anything with wheels. I think were in fear of the occupation forces.”
The United States and Japan signed Emergency Occupation Order No. 1 on 9 September 1945 aboard the USS Panamint, the flagship of Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander, North Pacific Force and Area. Among the Order’s instructions, the Japanese would provide:
- Lists of all Japanese “land, air, and anti-craft units, showing locations and strength in officers and men”
- Lists of all aircraft (military, naval, and civilian), naval vessels, and merchant ships, their type, condition, and locations
- Detailed information, including maps, of “all mines, minefields and other obstacles to movement by land, sea or air”
- “Locations and descriptions of all military installations and establishments… together with plans and drawings of all such fortifications, installations and establishments”
- “Locations of all camps and other places of detention of all United Nations prisoners of war”
Further stipulations regarded minesweeping, and the provision of transportation, labor, materials, and facilities as directed by Admiral Fletcher.
In his introductory remarks to the Occupation Order, Admiral Fletcher expressed his hope that the occupation would proceed without “any incident that would only increase the sufferings of the Japanese people.”
Concluding his personal account of the signing, QM Douglass wrote: “Another drastic and useless war had ended, another lesson had been learned testifying that man wraps himself in a blanket of ideals and luxuries, then with a match sets the world on fire, finding he was destroying himself as well with the seeking of leadership and fame.”
The officers and crew of the Bearss held a flag raising ceremony at the Ominato Base. QM Douglass observed, “The ancient empire today stands beneath the flags of the United Nations. A destroyer and her crew received a ‘well done’ as the stars and stripes were raised over Ominato, proving that nations combined shall oppress all who intend to destroy the human race.”
Heading Home and Conclusions
After a period of occupation duty, the USS Concord sailed for Boston to participate in Navy Day on 27 October 1945. According to the Navy, she was the first Navy cruiser named for a Massachusetts city or town to visit the Commonwealth since the surrender of Japan. Some 18,000 people lined up in Boston to board the ship and view the turret of the “twin six” that fired the last shot of the war. (The gun and mount are now on view at the Naval Museum in Washington, D. C.) Visitors also saw a bronze replica of the famous Concord Minuteman Statue, a memento of the first “shot heard ’round the world” of the Revolutionary War and the ship’s “mascot.”
The Concord received one Battle Star for her service in the Kuril Islands Operation. After visiting Boston, she returned to her home port of Philadelphia where she was decommissioned on 12 December 1945 and sold 21 January 1947.
Following her occupation duty, the USS Bearss sailed for Hakodate, Hokkaido, to Yokosuka in Tokyo Bay, and then returned to the States via the destroyer base in Hawaii to San Diego, California. From there, the Bearss passed through the Panama Canal and arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, on 23 December 1945. She had participated in eight sea strikes with no casualties. The Bearss was brought back into service in 1951, decommissioned in 1963, and eventually sold for scrap.
After a 30-day leave, allowing him to return home to Salem for Christmas of 1945, Thaddeus Buczko (today, age 89) was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Midway until he retired from active duty.
He went on to receive a B. A. from Norwich University (with honors) and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army. While pursuing his law degree at Boston University, in June 1949 Buczko was commissioned by the U. S. Army to serve as a Reserve Officer with the 304th Armored Calvary Regiment. He was recalled to active duty in 1952, during the Korean War, where he served as a Unit Tank Commander with the 3rd Armored Division and as Assistant Staff Judge Advocate for the Division. After the war, Buczko served with Civil Affairs units (military government). He commanded the 357th Civil Affairs Area B Headquarters. He also served as Chief of Staff of the 94th Army Reserve Command, which was comprised of more than 12,000 citizen-soldier reservists in over 100 reserve units in New England. In 1979, Buczko retired at the rank of Colonel after 30 years of service in the Army. For his service, he received the Legion of Merit medal.
Thaddeus Buczko has served as a Salem City Councilor, Massachusetts State Representative, Post Master of Salem (appointed by President John F. Kennedy), Massachusetts State Auditor, and First Justice of the Essex County Probate and Family Court. He is credited with bringing Pope John Paul II to Boston in 1979. He continues to reside in Salem.