Top positive review
Husband. Father. Pilot. Mechanical Genius. Hero.
Reviewed in the United States on November 6, 2016
To win a war, especially a war of the magnitude of World War II, it takes soldiers who are absolutely driven to defeat the enemy, as well as tactics and innovative weapons which help those soldiers get the job done. During World War II, the United States had such a soldier: Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn.
Pappy had served in the U.S. Navy for several years before retiring and moving his family to the Philippines and becoming a founding member of Philippine Air Lines. Along the way, he learned how to fly and how to fix almost anything that flew. When the Japanese attacked the Philippines in December, 1941, he was made a part of the USAAF and assigned a wide variety of missions around the islands: flying supplies to various places, moving personnel to and fro, attacking the Japanese when possible with the meager forces at hand, and keeping the tiny amount of aircraft available to him flightworthy. It was during one such mission where he ended up in Australia and the Japanese closed off his chances to return to the Philippines and rescue his family. As it turned out, this was to have a far-reaching impact on the way the war progressed in the Pacific.
Since he couldn't rescue his family, Pappy became a man possessed with the idea of defeating the Japanese as soon as possible. To this end, he waged a maverick war on his own: stealing supplies at gunpoint, "acquiring" planes which were slated for other places and making modifications which weren't approved by a higher authority. Eventually he caught the eye a few like-minded individuals and began converting existing bombers into gunships which would devastate anything in their path. One of these individuals was General George Kenney, the new commander of the 5th Air Force. An innovator himself, he and Pappy were kindred spirits who worked in cooperation to make the 5th AF a more potent and feared fighting force. The fruits of their labors were on full display in early 1943 when a convoy of Japanese ships attempting to land reinforcements in New Guinea was annihilated by the new gunships which Pappy helped create. From then on, the Japanese remained firmly on the defensive and never gained the upper hand in the Southwest Pacific.
But this book isn't just about Pappy and his battles against the Japanese. He was an extremely devoted, loving husband and family man to his wife and four children. Leaving them behind in Manila when the Japanese invaded caused him untold mental anguish and provided the maniacal drive to defeat the Japanese. His family ended up being held prisoner in Santo Tomas, a university in Manila which was converted into a prison. Lack of food, diseases, cruel Japanese guards and untrustworthy fellow inmates provided a never-ending stream of obstacles to survival for the Gunn family. While they didn't know what had happened to Pappy, they always held out hope he would arrive to rescue them.
This book reads like a novel at times and some of the stories about Pappy's exploits are acknowledged as being unconfirmed, but that doesn't stop the flow of the narrative. John Bruning has woven a fantastic story together from a multitude of sources, one which is inspirational, entertaining and educational as well. I've read dozens of books on the 5th AF and the air combat over the Pacific, and I learned a few things from this book. A welcome addition to my library!