MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — When Japan’s foreign minister signed Instruments of Surrender aboard USS Missouri, a battleship that wasn’t built when Japanese warplanes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941 — a sailor who was born and raised in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia 101 years ago watched the Japanese delegation come alongside Missouri in a motor launch and climb a gangway to what became known as the “Surrender Deck.”

The surrender took place in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. There wasn’t room in the bay for all of the captains and crews of warships who wanted to witness the end of the Second World War. Petty Officer Second Class Buck Bowers was able to watch that historic moment from the 20-millimeter gun tub on his ship, LST 678, a Landing Ship Tank transport.

Before Bowers and his son left for Honolulu in early December to join other WWII veterans, including 32 Pearl Harbor Survivors, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bowers told WDVM’s Ross Simpson what he could see through his binoculars in Tokyo Bay. “I could see everything.”

Bowers says he could see General Douglas McArthur address the Japanese delegation before that country’s foreign minister stepped forward and signed the surrender documents on behalf of Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

It took only 23 minutes for the surrender to take place. General McArthur ended the surrender by saying, “These proceedings are closed.”

While in Hawaii, Buck Bowers was able to go aboard the battleship and have lunch with other WWII veterans. USS Missouri and USS Arizona are the “Alpha and Omega” of the war in the Pacific. Arizona was sunk at the beginning of war in the Pacific. Missouri provided the platform for Japan’s surrender that ended the war. Today they are together on what is left of Battleship Row; Arizona in a watery grave marked by a Memorial Arch, Missouri moored at Ford Island which was “ground zero” for the beginning of World War Two.

Buck Bowers was a conductor on the B&O Railroad in Western Maryland before he was drafted, trained as a 20 millimeter gunner and sent to the South Pacific. The first stop was Iwo Jima.

After landing some Sherman tanks on Iwo Jima, Bowers’s ship — the LST 678 in the foreground — anchored off of Mount Suribachi to the right and waited for wounded Marines to be brought to his ship for treatment of their wounds.

The seriously wounded were taken to hospital ships Hope and Samaritan that were further out to sea. An LST next to Bowers’s ship exploded when it was hit by a Japanese artillery shell fired by a cannon that was rolled out of a cave on Suribachi on railroad tracks and rolled back inside before U.S. warships offshore could return fire.

Later, when Bowers’s LST lost a propeller during the Battle of Okinawa, the last battle of the Second World War, it had to drop out of a flotilla. “That’s when another LST cut in front of us and took our place,” said Bowers.

Minutes later, a Kamikaze pilot flew his plane into the transport, loaded with five-inch shells and high octane gasoline.

Bowers said the ship exploded and sank within seconds. “All onboard went down with the ship,” he said. “No survivors.”

After the war, Buck Bowers returned to his old job at the B&O Railroad in Cumberland, Maryland. He supported his wife and two children on his earnings as a pool shark at the local VFW post.

“I didn’t cash a single railroad check,” said Bowers as he shot a game of pool with WDVM’s Ross Simpson at VFW Post 896 in Martinsburg; a warmup for what awaited him in Honolulu.

Kimo Polk, a Japanese-American who manages Hawaiian David’s Social Club in Honolulu, hosted Buck Bowers in a “Best-of-Three to see who was the best pool player in the Pacific.” Polk, a professional player, beat Bowers two games to one to win one of two trophies I had made for the match. But Bowers didn’t blink an eye. The aging warrior was gracious in defeat and shook hands with the winner.

“Had I been playing on an 8-foot table, instead of a professional 9-foot table,” the outcome might have been different, but I have no hard feelings. He beat me fair and square,” said the former sailor who was one of the top boxers in the U.S. Seventh Fleet during the war.

After beating Bowers in a friendly game before both of us flew to Honolulu for the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling about him beating Ralph Matsumoto, a 100-year-old self-proclaimed “Pool Shark,” in a winner-take-all tournament I arranged at Hawaiian David’s. When Ralph didn’t show up for the match, Kimo took his place. I watched him run the table several times during practice before Bowers and his son Richard arrived, so I wasn’t surprised at the outcome. That’s why I had two trophies made in Winchester: one for the winner and one for the runner-up.