(Hachette Books, 544 pages, $16.00)
Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn died in 1957, when his airplane crashed while flying over the Philippines, and since then, his story had faded. This book, written by John R. Bruning, is an amazing read about an amazing man and pilot. Nowadays, the term “epic” seems overused, but Bruning’s story of Gunn and his wartime exploits is truly that: an epic you’ll have to read to believe.
Pappy’s story reads like a Hollywood movie script. In December 1941, Pappy and his family were living in Manila, where he worked as the operations manager for Philippine Airlines. After the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Pappy was commissioned as a captain in the
U.S. Army Air Corps and ordered by U.S. Senior Command to fly key Army Air Force personnel out of the country. Japanese forces were preparing their invasion of the Philippines, and his orders left Pappy with an impossible decision: adhere to duty and follow orders, or fly his family to safety? Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff convinced Pappy that he had enough time to do both, so he chose duty over family. But when he was miles away with a plane full of Army brass, Manila fell to the Japanese. Pappy’s wife and children were captured and imprisoned at Santo Tomas Internment Camp, where they faced starvation, disease, and brutal abuse. His exploits became legendary, including his revolutionary idea to outfit Air Force B-25 medium bombers with massive numbers of .50-caliber machine guns, transforming them into the world’s first flying gunships. Pappy and his small band of enlisted men built a squadron of these heavily armed “Strafer” gunships and sparked a revolution in air warfare that’s still in use today. Pappy’s aircraft went on to develop the successful method of “skip bombing” and exploited their new tactics on Japanese shipping, with low-level attacks along the coastlines and in harbors. Pappy’s continued bravery and heroism earned him a number of medals, including the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and nine Purple Hearts. And yet, his story remains unknown to most people.
A celebrated, charismatic pilot, Pappy was truly one of the great pioneering naval fliers of aviation’s Golden Age. Having flown the very first plane off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS
Langley, Pappy was a natural pilot. He had a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy before the advent of World War II, and flew everything from the latest fighters to massive bombers and patrol planes. By 1943, Pappy was one of America’s most experienced pilots. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arrived in Australia to investigate the poor treatment of African-American units in the Pacific Theater, MacArthur entrusted her safety to his best pilot: Pappy Gunn. Every mission described in the book is heart-pounding. I found
Indestructible hard to put down. If you want a book that’s exciting, educational, and inspiring, this one is hard to beat.—
Pappy spent the next three years consumed by his mission to rescue his family while also fighting the enemy in the South Pacific. Pappy flew hundreds of missions and was shot down multiple times, even sustaining life-threatening wounds, but he never gave up his fight to both win the war and save his family.Frustrated with defeat and constant failure, Pappy devised his own weaponry, missions, and combat strategies to improve his odds.