The Last to Die

The war in the Pacific ended as it began, with a surprise attack by Japanese warplanes

Before flying on a B-32, Marchione (front, second from right) had been on a B-24 Liberator crew that included his buddies Rudy Nudo and Frank Pallone (front, second and third from left, respectively). (Jerry Viracola, via Chuck Varney)
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Soon after the B-32s appeared over Tokyo, the air raid alarms sounded at the Yokosuka base. Sadamu Komachi recalled in a 1978 article in a Japanese magazine that 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. Hobo Queen II was flying at about 20,000 feet and had just completed its last photo run when Klein got the first inkling of trouble.

“One of our gunners said he could see fighters taking off from one of the fields below us,” Klein said in 1998 (he died in 2004). “I turned the plane so I could see them, and sure enough, they were on their way up. I wasn’t too concerned about us, since it would take them a while to reach us, but Anderson was a good 10,000 feet below us.”

Klein radioed a warning to Anderson but got no response. As it turned out, though, Anderson’s tail gunner, Sergeant John Houston, also saw the fighters. “By the time I spotted them, they were already at about the same altitude as we were,” Houston said. “I was facing backwards, and they were coming in from my 11 o’clock, three or four moving from my left to right. I just put the sight on them and started shooting. One fighter came so close I couldn’t miss. I gave him about 50 rounds and saw hits on the wings and fuselage. He kept coming until he was within about 100 feet, and then he just blew up.”

In the two top turrets, Sergeant Benjamin Clayworth (who was forward) and Sergeant Jimmie Smart (aft) also engaged the attackers. Smart hammered a fighter coming in from 3 o’clock high, and as it rolled beneath the Dominator, Clayworth yelled over the intercom that he saw it explode. In the nose turret, Sergeant Burton Keller fired at those attackers making head-on runs after their passes at Klein’s aircraft. The only guns aboard Anderson’s B-32 not pumping out .50-caliber rounds were those in the belly turret, which had been inoperable even before the aircraft left Okinawa.

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.


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