Last to Die, A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II by Stephen Harding

Have you ever wondered who was the last to be killed in combat during a war? I frequently have. Stephen Harding writes about the last American to die in combat in World War II in Last to Die, A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II.

Here is a brief summary of the book:

On August 18, 1945—three days after Japan announced it would cease hostilities and surrender—U.S. Army Air Forces Sergeant Anthony J. Marchione bled to death in the clear, bright sky above Tokyo. Just six days after his twentieth birthday, Tony Marchione died like so many before him in World War II—quietly, cradled in the arms of a buddy who was powerless to prevent his death. Though heartbreaking for his family, Marchione’s death would have been no more notable than any other had he not had the dubious distinction of being the last American killed in World War II combat.

An aerial gunner who had already survived several combat missions, Marchione’s death was the tragic culmination of an intertwined series of events. The plane that carried him that day was a trouble-plagued American heavy bomber known as the B-32 Dominator, which would prove a failed competitor to the famed B-29 Superfortress. And on the ground below, a palace revolt was brewing and a small number of die-hard Japanese fighter pilots decided to fight on, refusing to accept defeat.

Based on official American and Japanese histories, personal memoirs, and the author’s exclusive interviews with many of the story’s key participants, Last to Die is a rousing tale of air combat, bravery, cowardice, hubris, and determination, all set during the turbulent and confusing final days of World War II.

The book is a sad tale of how a young American did not have to die due to several factors. These factors included a faulty airplane (B-32 Dominator), malfunctioning equipment, and zealot Japanese who refused to obey the orders of their Emperor. As Harding adroitly points out, the B-32 should never have been allowed into production. From its creation, the plane was plagued by one problem after another.

Harding weaves Marchione’s story with the story of the Dominator. He succinctly describes Marchione’s upbringing and training in the B-24 Liberator and the last-minute switch to the Dominator. Marchione and his crew mates soon learn the many problems of the Dominator in their first mission.

Harding provides an excellent overview of the Japanese plot to overthrow their government in order to continue the war. He summarizes the two sides – hawks and doves – as they try to convince the Emperor to support their views. In the end, the doves prove more successful, but the hawks continued their resistance. This resistance was significant for Marchione in that the Japanese pilots that supported this view flew into the skies to contest the last mission.

The book is an excellent read with plenty of detail and photographs.

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