One Man’s Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII
John R. Bruning
Hachette Books, New York, 2016, 544 pages
Book Review published on: June 29, 2018
John R. Bruning’s story of P. I. “Pappy” Gunn is incredible with Indestrucible: One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII. Using an almost This Is Us style of storytelling, Bruning bounces back and forth between Gunn’s youth and his fight to rescue his family. Bruning chronicles Gunn’s life from running moonshine to meeting and marrying the love of his life, and to a career ending as a pilot in the U.S. Navy. Each aspect of Gunn’s life prior to World War II built a foundation of character that focused on taking care of his family and his country. Gunn’s knowledge, skills, and determination led him to become a warrior the Japanese undoubtedly never considered in their prewar calculations. Many individual Japanese servicemen, entire units, and the Japanese nation would regret having roused Pappy Gunn to action.
Bruning’s story began the morning of 7 December 1941 when Gunn’s life as a chief pilot and an operations officer for nascent Philippine Air Lines ended and his life as an Army Air Force officer began. Gunn was ordered to fly diplomats and members of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff out of the Philippines to safety. While away, the Japanese took Manila and captured Gunn’s wife, Polly, and four children, all of whom were placed in an internment camp. Gunn’s determination to rescue his family drove him to conduct exploits that are nothing short of extraordinary. His incredible mechanical abilities to modify aircraft and skills as a pilot led to almost revolutionary improvements in the destructive capacity of aircraft.
Gunn developed several modifications to make B-25 aircraft more effective in combat. He added fuel tanks to extend their range and fabricated bomb racks from A-20s to increase the B-25 payload. He mounted eight synchronized .50 caliber machine guns and shifted weight within the aircraft to maintain the flight characteristics. The B-25s became extraordinary ship killers. During the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943, the U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, using the modified B-25s, destroyed most of the Japanese task force trying to reinforce Lae. Following the success in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Gunn was sent to meet with Army Air Force engineers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and then to Inglewood, California, where he worked with the North American Aviation staff to standardize the modifications to the B-25.
Bruning does not neglect the story of Gunn’s family as they fought for survival at the Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila. Using lessons taught by Gunn, Polly and their children did what they must to stay alive. Each member displayed the steely resolve of their husband and father. Santo Tomas would be liberated in early February 1945. Gunn, severely injured in late October 1944, spent time in various hospitals until he and his family were reunited in late February 1945.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Kevin Lee Watson, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia