With a title like Indestructible one would think this book would be about a bridge or a building. But you would be wrong, because this book is a biography of an American who – as the front of the book purports – changed the course of World War II.
Yes it is a true story, and after reading the book I can agree that Paul Irvin Gunn, the man of the book, did help to change the course of World War II. But not the European war with the Germans, but the war in the Pacific with the Japanese.
Paul Irvin Gunn had been a pilot in the American Navy during the First World War, so not only knew his way around planes, but was also a brilliant flyer. He was at one with the machine, and knew how low and how high was necessary to avoid being seen on radar and avoiding anti-aircraft fire.
Just before Christmas in 1941, PI, as everyone called him and his family of Polly – his wife, and four children Julie, Connie, Nath and Paul were living near Nichols Field and airport just outside of Manila. PI had the job of setting up and running the Philippines Air Lines (PAL). In those days the air service was provided in Beech 18s and Staggerwings. Planes made with propellers and flimsy material but reliable and useful for flying between the Philippine islands, which was a part of PI’s duties.
It was December 1941 when the Japanese began its advance in the Pacific. And the book follows the ordeals of not only PI, but his family during the war.
To say the PI was a rebel would be an understatement. He was in the reserves at the beginning of the war so was called up for duty. Because the family lived at the edge of the airfield, and was bombed by the Japanese, PI moved the family to central Manila.
At the beginning of the Japanese invasions of the Philippines, MacArthur was finding it hard to get troops and men who knew not only about fighting but about flying. PI quickly found his services being used. He was sent to Australia, and asked to prepare some men to attack Japanese forces up in the Philippines. The day he was sent he had told his family he would be back for them. He told his youngest Nath to look after his mother and the family and left with trepidation.
Unfortunately he never did get back. His family were interned in the Prisoner of War camp at Santo Tomas. They did survive but their time in internment changed each one of their lives.
While reading this book I was amazed that I didn’t know about PI Gunn. During the war he earned the title Pappy Gunn, and from the stories that have been told about him, he was not only well known but revered amongst the Americans and the Filipinos he worked with. He wasn’t an engineer, but as soon as he saw the brand new planes that had been supplied by America for Australia, he knew they weren’t suitable. But instead of complaining he decided to fix them himself. He and a couple of mechanics worked towards changing the planes so they were better fitted with guns and could carry more fuel. Of course he had arguments with most of the hierarchy and especially the American Army Stores in Brisbane, who when they wouldn’t provide him with equipment he held them up with a Colt 45 until he got the equipment he needed.
Now you are probably going to say, how could he do that? But it would seem he didn’t wait to be asked, or given permission he just started work on the planes and fixed them. And, when finally they were, to his feeling, suitable, they were flown up to the Philippines and used to great advantage. Pappy Gunn was part of the entourage that devastated the Japanese in the Bismark Sea. His planes were such a success, he was sent to America to show the manufacturers what was needed.
This book is about a man and his family that should be made into a movie. My only concern is I don’t believe there would be a film long enough to show all the amazing things Pappy Gunn achieved or what he did for the Americans and the Australians during the war. Of course a TV series would be able to achieve this.
This is a well written book. John R Bruning has done an incredible amount of research. He has talked with members of PI Gunn’s family, he has searched through and found all the written information in American archives about this man, and on top of that the way he has written the book is thrilling.
Wanting to find out what happened next is always a great way to write, and this book gives you stacks of this. The descriptions of what happened to Polly and the kids in the Internment Camp are realistic and upsetting.
Reading about some of the scrapes Pappy Gunn gets himself into are sometimes terrifying and sometimes amusing. He was a great raconteur and very popular wherever he went. But through it all, his family was the most important thing. His whole life throughout the war was working towards getting back to Manila to save Polly and the kids, whether he was working hours on end without sleep or surviving many accidents.
I can highly recommend this book Indestructible. It is a great read, and I feel sure, like me you will wonder why we have never heard of Pappy Gunn, the guy who changed the course of World War II in the Pacific.
Title of Book Indestructible
Author: John R Bruning
Publisher: Hatchette Books