Re­view Run­way

(Ha­chette Books, 544 pages, $16.00)

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - By John R. Brun­ing Gerry Yar­rish

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.

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