The Last Airman to Die in WWII

From a even a quick glance at Anthony J. Marchione’s photo, the man’s youth is evident. He was a handsome young man, too, slightly built, all of five foot six and 125 pounds. He’d celebrated his twentieth birthday in Okinawa on August 12, 1945, an American airman in the prime of his life. Three days later, the Japanese surrendered. Six days later he was dead.

Theresa Marchione Sell was celebrating in the streets when news of the war’s end reached Pottstown, Pennsylvania. She was excited, as the surrender meant her brother, Anthony, would be coming home to Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He did, but not as she expected.

It was several weeks before Ralph Marchione, a shoemaker, and his wife Emelia, Italian immigrants, got word that their son had been killed in action on August 18, three days after the supposed end of the hostilities. He’d been buried on Okinawa. It wasn’t until three years later, on June 10, 1948, that they were notified of his impending repatriation. The casket bearing Marchione’s remains returned to Pottstown on March 18, 1949. The last American to die in air combat in World War II was buried days later in St. Aloysius Old Cemetery with full military honors.

Marchione had graduated from Pottstown High School in 1943 and played the trumpet in the school band. Six months later, on November 20, 1943, he enlisted in Allentown, Pennsylvania, He had expected to get drafted, his sister said. “He chose the Air Corps because he’d just always wanted to fly.” She added, “I was still in high school when he went into the service, and with all the [patriotic fervor] at the time, my sister Geraldine and I thought it was neat that he was going.” The young man had wanted to be a pilot, but the Army had other plans; it trained him to be an aerial gunner. In November 1944, at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field in Arizona, he joined a Consolidated B-24 Liberator crew that was being transferred to Will Rogers Army Air Force Base in Oklahoma City for training in photo-reconnaissance. By August 1945, their unit, the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron, had moved to Okinawa.

The circumstances around his death have been described in numerous reports.

In brief, on August 18, 1945, Marchione was aboard a B-32 Dominator bomber monitoring the cease-fire and taking photographs over Tokyo. Although, Japanese Emperor Hirohito had announced over the radio that his country had surrendered, there were a number of military diehards who vowed to fight on until a formal document was signed.

Soon after the B-32s appeared over Tokyo, the air raid alarms sounded at the Yokosuka base. The sight of American bombers flying so serenely above devastated Tokyo was too much for the gathered fighter pilots to bear. They ran to their aircraft and took off to intercept.

The Japanese said, “What we did was perfectly legal and acceptable under international law and the rules of engagement . . . we were still a sovereign nation, and every nation has the right to protect itself. When the Americans sent over their B-32s . . . they were committing a provocative and aggressive act … It was most unwise for the Americans to send over their bombers only a few days after the surrender announcement. They should have waited and let things cool down.”

Marchione’s plane was hit and he was severely wounded by anti-aircraft fire and potentially by fire from a Japanese fighter piloted by the famous Japanese ace, Lt. Saburo Sakai. Sgt. Marchione was unable to respond to on-board medical treatment and died before the plane landed successfully at Okinawa.

Marchione and aerial photographer Joseph Lacharite were securing the camera gear when they heard the call about incoming fighters. Lacharite got hit and then Marchione by a 20-mm round that penetrated the right side of the aircraft and slammed into him, knocking him against side of the cabin.

“When I got there, Tony was bleeding from a big hole in his chest,” Second Lieutenant and navigator Rupke said. “He was still conscious when I got to him, and I told him everything was going to be all right. He said ‘Stay with me,’ and I said ‘Yes, I’ll stay with you.’ I did the best I could to stop the bleeding and I held him in my arms.” They gave Marchione oxygen and blood plasma and applied compression bandages to his wound, but about 30 minutes after being hit, the young gunner died.

It was the last air combat of the war; the next day, as part of the cease-fire agreement, the propellers were removed from all Japanese fighters. From then on, Allied flights over Japan went unchallenged.


Thomas Spoeher, RealClearDefemse (++

Steven Hardig, Air&Space Magazine, November 2008 ++

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