- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

NEW HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Like a lot of returning servicemen in 1945, Paul A. Vaccari didn’t talk much about war.

He did, however, talk about where it ended, aboard the USS Missouri. Vaccari, who served as a water tender, third class, in the ship’s engine room, was on deck Sept. 2, 1945, to witness the signing of surrender by the empire of Japan that brought an end to World War II.

Vaccari, a resident of Colebrook for 50 years, died Oct. 14 at the age of 90. His ashes were interred recently at Colebrook’s Beech Hill Cemetery in a ceremony attended by 50 that included a tribute by the Northwest Connecticut Final Honors Squad.

Vaccari knew the place well. He could see it from the porch of the family’s Beech Hill Road porch.

The 45,000-ton Iowa-class battleship Missouri was built in the New York Navy Yard and commissioned in June 1944. It supported the Iwo Jima invasion, the battle of Okinawa and raids on Japan’s home islands. It was the handsome, square-jawed young sailor’s home for the remainder of the war, where he earned the World War II Victory Medal, the American Theatre Campaign Ribbon, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with three stars.

Black-and-white photographs glued to black pages in a small, worn family album were the only visual link to the “Mighty Mo.” None exist of Vaccari’s battle station in the bowels of the ship, where it was his primary responsibility to keep the engines functional and attempt to douse fires rather than run from them.

In a book of remembrances written by those who served aboard the ship, Vaccari recalled a kamikaze plane striking the ship in April 1945. The pilot was cut in half. The fire caused by the crash filled the vents with smoke.

Yet still the commander, William M. Callaghan, ordered the enemy pilot to receive a military funeral.

“We used some of the photos for book reports back in school and didn’t put them back,” Vaccari’s daughter Sheila Smith said. The medals were stashed in a bureau drawer. A safe-deposit box contained the only other surviving documents from the war: Vaccari’s discharge papers and a red, Japanese surrender card given to each sailor aboard.

Born and raised in Hartford, Vaccari had received a deferment from military service to help support his widowed mother and sister. He was just 19.

“He wanted to go, and it was tough for him to even walk downtown because he drew attention when all the other young men were gone,” his wife of 60 years, Rita, said. “Finally his mother said, ‘Don’t say I kept you from going,’ so he went down and signed up.”

After the war, Vaccari returned to Hartford to work as a bus driver. His passengers included Rita Rush, who accepted his offer for a first date even though it meant canceling a date with another man who thought so highly of Vaccari that he didn’t mind. They were married in 1954, a courtship that included a lifelong love of dancing.

“He didn’t talk much about the war,” said Rita Vaccari, now 89.

Their daughter, Sheila Smith, said they knew he had been through combat, “but that was his generation … They got over things and went on.”

Even at reunions where shipmates gathered, conversations were inevitably about which hotel to pick rather than a battle recalled, Smith said.

Part of it, Smith speculated, was that it was a different sort of war.

“You knew who the enemy was and why you were fighting,” said Smith, who worked at the Veterans Affairs with returning Vietnam vets. “Battlefields aren’t the same today.”

Vaccari, a life member of VFW Post 296 in Winsted, left his driver’s job to work at Pratt & Whitney as a security guard. He retired in 1986.

They were still a young family with five children in the 1960s when they moved to Colebrook. It was closer to relatives in Winsted, and Vaccari’s beloved woods where he hunted and fished.

Two of their four sons, Donald and Paul D. Vaccari, also served in the Navy with the Naval Special Wartime Development, also known as the elite Seal Team 6. Donald, reached in Virginia Beach, Virginia, couldn’t comment about, or acknowledge his service.

“He was strict about moral code and integrity,” Smith said about her father. “He never swore. We stopped going to the movies because he thought there was so much swearing and nudity. But he taught us to listen and do everything right the first time.”


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