Last to Die

A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II


By Stephen Harding

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On August 18, 1945 — three days after Japan announced it would cease hostilities and surrender — U.S. Army Air Forces Sergeant Anthony J. Marchione bled to death in the clear, bright sky above Tokyo. Just six days after his twentieth birthday, Tony Marchione died like so many before him in World War II — quietly, cradled in the arms of a buddy who was powerless to prevent his death. Though heartbreaking for his family, Marchione’s death would have been no more notable than any other had he not had the dubious distinction of being the last American killed in World War II combat.

An aerial gunner who had already survived several combat missions, Marchione’s death was the tragic culmination of an intertwined series of events. The plane that carried him that day was a trouble-plagued American heavy bomber known as the B-32 Dominator, which would prove a failed competitor to the famed B-29 Superfortress. And on the ground below, a palace revolt was brewing and a small number of die-hard Japanese fighter pilots decided to fight on, refusing to accept defeat.

Based on official American and Japanese histories, personal memoirs, and the author’s exclusive interviews with many of the story’s key participants, Last to Die is a rousing tale of air combat, bravery, cowardice, hubris, and determination, all set during the turbulent and confusing final days of World War II.


  • "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

    "A five-star military read."Washington Times
  • 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.”
  • 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

On Sale
Oct 4, 2016
Page Count
288 pages
Da Capo Press

Stephen Harding

About the Author

Stephen Harding is the author of nine books, including the New York Times bestseller The Last Battle, which is in production as a major motion picture, and The Castaway's War, optioned as a major motion picture. He is currently the editor-in-chief of Military History magazine and lives in Northern Virginia.

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