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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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.

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. Preparations for the occupation of Japan continued, and the Allied advance party landed at Atsugi on August 28, a week before the formal surrender.

While reporters on Okinawa filed stories about the August 18 attack almost as soon as it happened, the incident was largely buried under  news of the coming occupation. The story got the biggest play in the hometown newspapers of those involved. The Fort Worth Star Telegram ran stories on Texans John Houston and Jimmie Smart, while Lacharite was written about in Massachusetts, where his recovery took several years. It was, of course, in the Marchione home in Pottstown that news of the attack hit hardest.

“When we heard the war was over, there was a tremendous celebration in town,” Theresa Sell told me. “And of course, our family participated in that. Then, on the 19th, it all changed. I was at work, and I had just gone to the ladies’ room when my boss sent someone in to get me. When I walked out, he wouldn’t tell me what the trouble was, only that I had to go home. Of course, when I got there my mother and dad were in pretty bad shape.”

The War Department had sent a telegram stating that Marchione had been killed in action, but it gave no details, nor did it mention the disposition of his remains. It was several weeks before Ralph Marchione, a shoemaker, and his wife Amelia got word that their son had been buried on Okinawa the day after his death. And 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—accompanied by his Army buddies and fellow Italian-Americans Frank Pallone and Rudy Nudo—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.


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