On August 18, 1945, US Army sergeant Anthony J. Marchione bled to death in the clear, bright sky above Tokyo. Marchione, a gunner in the US Air Forces, died like so many before him in World War II—quietly, cradled in the arms of a buddy. Though tragic, 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.
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.
Japanese emperor Hirohito officially surrendered to Allied forces on Aug. 15, 1945, but the message wasn't delivered to all outposts and command centers until a few days later a lapse that would have serious consequences for both Japanese and American forces, as Harding (The Last Battle) illustrates in this meticulously researched account of the days following Japan's surrender. To verify that the Japanese military was complying with the peace treaty, it was necessary to confirm that military activity had ceased. This was to be accomplished by flying over key bases and installations in order to photograph them. The first of these missions was uneventful, but a subsequent mission encountered opposition from a handful of Japanese fighters and were unable to fully document all the sites. Despite this, it was decided that another mission was to be conducted the next day, with deadly consequences for U.S. Army Sergeant Anthony Marchione, the last American killed in WWII combat. Though Harding gets distracted by plane design and military minutiae early in the book, he 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.