The Last to Die
The war in the Pacific ended as it began, with a surprise attack by Japanese warplanes.
- By Stephen Harding
- Air & Space magazine, November 2008
Jerry Viracola, via Chuck Varney
(Page 4 of 5)
The turret problem didn’t seem to matter, since most of the Japanese were attacking Anderson’s Dominator from the front and sides. Komachi took another tack, however. He’d gotten above and ahead of the B-32, flipped inverted, and screamed down from 12 o’clock high. His fire raked the bomber, knocking out the left inboard engine. It was almost certainly during this attack that the first airman was injured aboard Anderson’s plane: A 20-mm cannon round hit the rear upper turret, sending shards of plexiglass into Smart’s forehead and left temple. He yelled “I’m hit!” and clambered down from the shattered turret.
Marchione and Lacharite were securing the camera gear when they heard Houston’s call about incoming fighters. Just before Smart descended, Lacharite stepped to the Dominator’s starboard waist observation window to try to spot the attackers.
“Just as I did that, I saw a plane headed right at me,” Lacharite told me a few years before his death in 2000. “That’s when I got hit. Rounds came right through the skin of the plane and hit me in both legs. I got spun around and landed on the floor. I grabbed the cord from one of the barracks bags that carried camera gear and wrapped it around one leg as a tourniquet. Then I wrapped an intercom cord around the other leg as Tony pulled me to a cot raised a few inches off the floor.”
As he was moving Lacharite, Marchione was on the intercom telling Anderson what had happened, and the pilot replied that he was sending Rupke. Marchione had just turned back toward Lacharite when a 20-mm round punched through the right side of the aircraft and slammed into him, knocking him against the other side of the cabin. He had just slumped to the floor when Rupke arrived.
“When I got there, Tony was bleeding from a big hole in his chest,” Rupke told me in 1997 (other eyewitnesses said Marchione was hit in the groin). “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.” As Rupke was trying to care for Marchione, Houston came forward from the tail turret, and he and Smart did what they could for Lacharite. Within minutes, the navigator, Second Lieutenant Thomas Robinson, and radar officer, Second Lieutenant Donald H. Smith, arrived to help. 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 in Rupke’s arms.
As soon as the B-32s were attacked, both had gone into rapid dives and turned toward the sea. This allowed their airspeed to exceed that of the Japanese fighters, and both Dominator pilots began to pull away from their attackers.
The 10 attack passes it had undergone left Klein’s airplane with no real damage, but Anderson’s was in bad shape. Besides the dead engine and shattered turret, the B-32 had lost partial rudder control and was punctured in about 30 places.
Both Dominators appeared over Yontan just after 6 p.m., and soon after landing they were surrounded by what the nose turret gunner Keller described as “every colonel in the Fifth Air Force, all wanting to know exactly what happened.” (He told me this a few years before his death in 2004.) Marchione, Lacharite, and Smart were removed from the aircraft through the bomb bay and whisked away in ambulances, while the other crewmen were sequestered for a full debriefing.