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Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II Hardcover – July 14, 2015

4.2 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Advance Praise for Last to Die

"The story of Tony Marchione and his tragic, heroic death in the skies over Tokyo a full three days after Japan had supposedly surrendered is as well told as it is heart-wrenching. Marchione reflected America's Greatest Generation perfectly, in terms of his upbringing, patriotism, and sacrifice, and he is superbly memorialized in this moving yet also scholarly book. Anyone who enjoyed Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken will love this work of history that reads like a thriller."—Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War

"This is a rarity: an entirely new World War II story. It reads like an adventure novel yet is a deeply researched work from the hand of a smart and seasoned historian. A tour de force of discovery and storytelling."—Donald L. Miller, author of Masters of the Air

"In Last to Die Stephen Harding proves that even seventy years later, World War II history can still reveal 'The rest of the story.' The little-known events centering upon Sergeant Anthony James Marchione and his Philadelphia area family include an almost unknown bomber flying a largely forgotten mission following Emperor Hirohito's decision to surrender in August 1945. With exceptional attention to detail and appreciation for personal drama amid great events, Harding brings the bittersweet story of twenty-year-old Tony Marchione to life—and vividly describes the death of the last American airman to die in the world's greatest war."—Barrett Tillman, author of Whirlwind and Forgotten Fifteenth

"This poignant story reveals how important it is to track down the truth about World War II events that have become lost to history. In Last to Die Stephen Harding does his usual excellent aviation research and lively writing to tell Harding how 'last gasp' wartime efforts—of airmen and their planes—had profound consequences."—Walter Boyne, former director of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and current Chairman of the National Aeronautic Association

Booklist, 6/1/15
“Harding, a military-affairs journalist, has woven together letters, interviews with family and friends, and both Japanese and American military records to provide an intense, quietly moving, and, of course, sad chronicle of a young life cut short…Harding treats the youth with admiration and affection that elicits compassion without becoming cloying or melodramatic. This is a superb look at the life and death of one young man among millions of others who loved, were loved by others, and died too soon.”

Kirkus Reviews, 6/15/15
“[Harding] seems to be making a specialty of the forgotten closing episodes of WWII…In a neat blend of military and technological history, Harding links Marchione's story to the development of the aircraft he staffed, a lumbering target called the Consolidated Dominator…A worthy sortie that explores a curtain-closing moment in history that might have gone very badly indeed.”

Publishers Weekly, 6/22/15
“[A] meticulously researched account of the days following Japan’s surrender… [Harding] relates his gripping account of the fight between Japanese and American forces in breathless detail, and the tale is impressive and inspiring, as is Harding’s determination to tell it.”

Wall Street Journal, 8/27/15
“In Last to Die, Mr. Harding tells the story of the life and death of this ordinary soldier and shows how difficult the transition from war to peace was…Mr. Harding’s background as a soldier, a former writer for the official U.S. Army magazine, and the current editor of Military History magazine makes him well suited to write about combat.”

About the Author

Stephen Harding is the author of eight previous books, including the New York Times bestseller The Last Battle. He is a longtime journalist specializing in military affairs. For nearly two decades he was on the staff of Soldiers, the official magazine of the U.S. Army, reporting from Northern Ireland, Israel, Egypt, New Zealand, Bosnia, Kuwait, and Iraq. Currently he is editor-in-chief of Military History magazine. His contributions on defense topics and aviation, military, and maritime history have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Air & Space Smithsonian, World War II, Jane's Defense Weekly, and Air Enthusiast. He lives in Northern Virginia.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (July 14, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306823381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306823381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #810,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Stephen Harding has done an excellent job of intertwining the stories of the B-32 Dominator-the 'poor cousin' of the B-29 Superfortress, the short and ultimately tragic life of Sgt. Anthony Marchione, and the mindset of the Japanese military and civilian leadership during the waning moments of World War II. Using, amongst other sources, interviews with surviving veterans who flew the B-32, family members of Sgt. Marcione, official military records, and information from Japanese researchers, he has been able to write a book that is both informative and smooth-flowing. For me, Sgt. Marcione has become the face of the thousands of airmen, of all countries but especially America, who died in the skies during WWII. One had to be last and, unfortunately for Sgt. Marchione, he was that one. After reading this book I have a newly found understanding and respect for those thousands who preceded him.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Last to Die, I thought, was about the last man to die in combat during World War II. It’s more than that.
Tony Marchione was a gunner/photographer assistant aboard a B-32 Dominator in the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron. After introducing Tony, a great deal is devoted to the B-32. It almost didn’t make it to combat, and the few planes that made it to the Pacific continuously had problems. Much more was presented than I cared to know about a plane I had never heard of, with good reason.
An overview of the Pacific War beginning with Pearl Harbor and the types of aircraft available also find a place in Last to Die.
Much more interesting is the Japanese coup. The hawks believed the emperor was coerced by the doves, making the surrender invalid. They intended to fight on and inflict such losses on the Allied invaders that the Allies would agree to a negotiated settlement. Other believed the surrender was not a reality until the official signing.
On August 17, Dominators had been attacked, but no casualties resulted. The next day, the Dominators went back to photograph military bases, looking for compliance with the surrender and places for the occupation forces to land. Diehards not sanctioned by the government again attacked the Dominators. A cannon shot blasted through Marchione’s chest, and he bled to death in a half hour. Two other crewmen were wounded, one badly.
A 16-man Japanese delegation followed MacArthur’s orders to meet the next day. The mutineers had wanted to shoot down the “traitors.” Pearl Harbor “hero” Mitsuo Fuchida initially went along with them until the emperor’s brother Prince Takanatsu, his old classmate, told him the emperor sincerely wanted surrender. The mutiny unraveled.
Tony Marchione is called the last to die in combat, but others wounded earlier surely died of their wounds later. The tragedy of Tony’s death is there shouldn’t have been bullets flying that day.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As of this writing, another commemoration has passed of the day that Japan signed the surrender document ending World War II in Asia and the Pacific theater on September 2, 1945. And as that day in history continues to be remembered 70 years and thereafter, historians or the curious readers of the past cannot be denied, especially of the individuals that helped to keep the world at peace and who were not necessarily the larger than life figures that contributed to victory. Stephen Harding writes of that part of history seldom revealed to the general public during the time in which they occurred and years later in books such as Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, A Forgotten Mission, and the Last American to Die in World War II. Harding intertwines the monumental event of the end of World War II to the life of 18-year old Army Sergeant Anthony “Tony” Marchione and the men that boarded photo-reconnaissance one of four Dominators and accompanying B-32’s Hobo Queen II and Harriet’s Chariot that met its fate on August 18, 1945 days after Japanese Emperor Hirohito accepted the Potsdam Declaration and announced surrender to the people of Japan and the world.

The book provides interesting insight to the events leading to August 18 but begins and ends with Marchione’s story. One may ask of what the symbolic importance does this story possess versus what readers already know about the end of World War II within the Pacific theater, the signing of the document of surrender aboard the USS Missouri at Tokyo Bay and dignitaries within global and military proportions present to mark the end of one of the most tumultuous events in history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On August 15th, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan had accepted the conditions of the Potsdam Declaration. The War in the Pacific was over. But for Sergeant Anthony Marchione, his battle with the Japanese would last for three more days, and in the end, would cost him his life.

Marchione was part of a crew of airmen charged with photographing and mapping areas of Japan. The purpose of this mission was to identify potential airfields and ports for use by the American occupation forces. Flying the Consolidated B-32 Dominator heavy bomber, Marchione and his fellow crewmen were sent to Japan on August 18th. Upon entering Japanese airspace, the B-32 was intercepted by a group of Japanese fighter pilots who had disobeyed the surrender order. Refusing to accept surrender, these rogue pilots had taken to the skies in order to defend Japan from incoming American flights. Marchione's happened to be one of those.

During the confrontation, two of Tony's fellow crew members were injured by Japanese bullets. As he was helping of of these men, Tony was struck in the chest by a Japanese shell. He died shortly afterwards; the last American airman killed in the Pacific War.

I found "Last to Die" to be an informative and interesting book. Author Stephen Harding not only describes the action that took place on Marchione's fateful flight, he also describes in detail of several other interesting aspects.

Harding's narrative about the B-32 Dominator bomber is especially interesting. Known as the "second-string super bomber", the B-32 was built to compliment the much more successful B-29. But the B-32 was plagued with mechanical problems throughout its career and was never really useful.
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