The U-Boat Killer

A U.S. Navy armorer loads a long belt of .50 caliber ammo into the nose turret of an Atlantic Theater Consolidated PB4Y2 Privateer patrol bomber. Very long range aircraft like this variant of the B-24 helped ensure German U-boats had no safe place to surface and recharge their batteries while on patrol in the Atlantic. U.S. Liberators and Privateers are credited with sinking at least 23 U-boats in the course of the war.

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The last flying PB4Y2 Privateer airborne over Chino in May 2017. The nose turret was removed when it was used as a fire bomber, starting in the 1960’s.  It served in that capacity until 2006. It just went through a thorough restoration and is now on the air show circuit.

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Categories: World War II in the Pacific, World War II in Europe, World War II Europe, WWII, WW2, World War II, ETO, European Theater of Operations | Tags: | 2 Comments

My Last Chino Moment (For this Trip)

At Planes of Fame Last Week:
There I was, walking back to the 475th FG hangar, and here was this little kid staring at the Bell X-2 fuselage tucked beside it. His eyes were wide, mouth agape. He turned to me and erupted, “That’s a Bell X-2! An X-2!! I had no idea there was one here!!”

I started laughing.

This was me in 1978. Same place. It brought back memories of sneaking into the boneyard and getting caught inside the fuselage of a Bollingbroke bomber, playing with the controls and calling out Messerschmitts to my gunners.

“What’s your name, kid?” I asked.

“Micah. Did you see the three bladed P-51A? It is the only flyable one in the world!”

“It is pretty cool, isn’t it?”

“Had an Allison engine, not a Merlin. Three blades.”

I started laughing, “Your dad get you into airplanes?”

Again, I had a flashback to my own childhood, eating oatmeal at the kitchen counter as my dad walked in, briefcase in hand, ready for work. “I think Johnny’s ready to build a model,” he said to my mom.

We went to Woolworths. I picked out the Hawk Spirit of St. Louis, and decorated it with Hot Wheels stickers. My dad was disgusted by my murder of historical authenticity. I was three.

Micah looked at me and said, “A little bit. But I read a lot.”
An hour later, I saw him meet Lt. Col. Dick Cole and have his photo taken with him. He was in awe. I talked to his father, who told me that Micah knows far more about aircraft now than he will ever know. “All he does is read and play video games.”

I have wondered if, the farther we get from the living memory of WWII, the number of kids wanting to learn, who are touched by whatever it is we here on this page were touched with, would dwindle away. Meeting this kid showed me that the fire is there in this new generation too.

Thank God.

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Categories: Writing Notes | Tags: | 2 Comments

Stories from Golden Gate IV: Steve Lopez and the Battle of Bau Bang.

Last week, I wandered through Golden Gate National Cemetery and took photos of the markers around me. I’m still on a research trip, now down in Southern California, but I have been slowly researching the men and women whose headstones I photographed. Each one has a remarkable story, which is easy to forget when the headstones stretch for acres in all directions.

Tonight, I want to tell you about Private First Class Steve Lopez.

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On March 19, 1967, the hundred and twenty-nine men of Troop A, 5th Cav rolled into Fire Base 20, a 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry position about a mile from the Vietnamese town of Ap Bau Bang. Troop A included six tanks and twenty M-113 armored personnel carriers. They set up a 360 defensive perimeter around the fire base, and that night at least two battalions of the 273rd Viet Cong Regiment struck the Americans with a massed infantry assault. The fury of the initial assault was so intense that even an AC-47 Spooky gunship, massive artillery support and the combined firepower of the 5th Cav’s tracks could not break it up.

800px-M113_Advance_in_VietnamThe VC reached the perimeter and swarmed over some of the APC’s. The tracks buttoned up and their commanders called for “dusting”–canister shots directed at their own vehicles by their fellow troopers. The idea was these shrapnel shells would kill the VC around the tracks but be unable to penetrate the M-113’s armored hulls.

The Americans fired at their own vehicles as the VC hit others with mortars and RPG’s. The tactic worked, but just as the canister shots cleared one M-113, a VC mortar hit it and caused it to explode. The wounded crew managed to escape and get back inside the perimeter as the rest of the troop retreated back and established another fighting line.

PFC Steve Lopez was part of the stricken track’s crew. His Brothers were able to get him out of the burning M113, but he died of his wounds a short time later. Steve was from Fremont, California. As a kid, he used to bring a sack lunch with a can of tuna in it. He’d open the can and eat the tuna straight out of it to the astonishment of his friends. Later, one of his classmates visited the Wall and left cans of tuna in his honor on the ground before his panel.

Steve was twenty years old when he died of shrapnel wounds. He’d been in the Army less than a year.

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The Americans held through the night with the help of air strikes, artillery and reinforcements. When the fighting ended, sixty-three Americans had been wounded and three killed. The two battalions of the VC’s 273rd Regiment suffered around two hundred and thirty killed in action. It took twenty-nine air strikes and almost thirty tons of bombs and rockets, plus three thousand artillery shells and the sheer determination of Troop A to hold Fire Base 20.

Though the Battle of Bau Bang II, as it was called, has been virtually forgotten by Americans, Steve Lopez will not be.

 

-John R. Bruning

 

 

Categories: American Warriors, Vietnam | Tags: | 1 Comment

Stories from Golden Gate II

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Men of the 381st Infantry Regiment advance on Big Apple Ridge, June 12, 1945.

 

The 96th Infantry Division trained at Camp Adair, Oregon in 1943-44. Known as the “Deadeyes,” the division was one of four that called Adair home, but it was the only one sent to the Pacific. The other three went to Italy and Western Europe.

PFC Castaneda and his regiment served on Leyte Island in the Philippines first, then took part in the Battle of Okinawa in the spring and summer of 1945. In eighty-one days of continuous combat, Castaneda’s division lost over 10,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action. Thirty-two Deadeyes are still classified as Missing in Action from Okinawa. Only the 6th Marine Division suffered heavier losses.

Louis Castaneda was killed on Okinawa on June 12, 1945, just shy of his 24th birthday, during an assault on Big Apple Ridge, a key position in the last Japanese defense line on the island. He is laid to rest at Golden Gate National Cemetery.

 

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Categories: American Warriors, World War II, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Leave a comment

Stories from Golden Gate

Today, I wandered through Golden Gate National Cemetery. Every marker tells a story. Here’s one:

 

Master Sergeant Kenji Munn Tashiro:

Sixty-one years. Three wars. Volunteered for service in 1943 despite the fact that his wife and two children were rounded up and thrown in an internment camp.

Fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe as part of an anti-tank gun company. Earned the CIB.

Returned home and stayed in the reserves, served in Korea and Vietnam as a military intelligence NCO. Incidentally, while he was in Korea, his son was fighting to hold the Pusan Perimeter with his brother Soldiers.

Died of stomach cancer in 1967, An American patriot to his core.AO5Y9423

Categories: Uncategorized, War in Europe, World War I, World War II, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, WW2, WWII | 1 Comment

The Planes of Fame Air Show Aviators

DSC07389Last weekend concluded one of the best warbirds air shows in the country. The Planes of Fame Air Museum puts on an astonishing display of military aviation heritage every May in what has become a major tradition within the warbirds community.

For most who attend, myself included, the amazing aircraft are the stars of the show. Thousands of photographers carrying insanely expensive gear turn out to capture these rare birds in flight. If you’re a member of any of the warbirds of WWII Facebook groups, no doubt you’ve been seeing their results.DSC07256

It dawned on me this year that the aviators and crews who keep these aircraft functional are the real stars. Who wakes up one day and says, “Gee, you know, I’d really like to spend my life working on Pratt & Whitney R2800 engines from the 1940s?” I mean, the market for that skill has got to be pretty limited. Ditto with the pilots like Steve Hinton, his son, Chris Fahey and Mark Foster. Some are prior service military aviators, others are legacies drawn to the family’s passion. It has to be something akin to a monastic calling.AO5Y3446

So today, I want to share a few moments I captured on the ground and in the air that highlight these remarkable folks who have taken the road less traveled to a unique and unusually special life. It is a dangerous one, as the many crashes, lost friends and aircraft can attest.  Jim Maloney. Jimmy Leeward.  Jay Gordon. Marcus Paine last year at Madras. The list is a long one. Yet, that does not dissuade them from climbing into the cockpit of aircraft built seven decades ago to carry men into battle at the cutting edge of their nation’s technological envelope. What a wild ride that must be.

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Here’s to a safe 2017 season and many more spectacular moments with these remarkable  historical artifacts.

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John Kerpa in period attire at the controls of an SBD Dauntless.

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When your P-63 King Cobra’s door won’t latch….who ya gonna call?

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Seriously, how cool would it be to put on your resume, “Pilot of the only complete airworthy A6M5 Zero on the planet?”

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John Kerpa channels Bill Ault on the weekend of the 75th Anniversary of The Battle of the Coral Sea.

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Mark Foster makes a low level, high speed pass in Wee Willy, a P-51 painted in the markings of the 357th Fighter Group’s Captain Calvert Williams. Willaims scored the legendary 8th Air Force group’s first kill during Big Week in February, 1944.

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In the CAF’s homage to top Navy ace David McCampbell is Chris Liguori, who has been flying since he was 14 years old. Got his pilot’s license before his driver’s license.

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Lt. Col. (ret) Robert “Lips” Hertberg in the cockpit of this AT-6 Texan. Col. Hertberg flew F-16’s, initially with the 496th Tactical Fighter Squadron, and later became an F-16 instructor.

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John Hinton, Steve Hinton’s brother, in the cockpit of a Desert Air Force P-40.

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Another shot of Lt. Col. Hertberg in the T-6.

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Jason Somes Taxis this beautiful late model Spitfire. Jason earned his pilot’s license at age 19 and has been racing at Reno since 2003.

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Steve Hinton watches his brother depart in the P-40.

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Jason returns from a flight to a very eager ground crew.

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Chris Fahey in the only flying P-38J left in the world.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: | 1 Comment

Chino’s Legendary Planes of Fame Airshow

AO5Y3975For one weekend every year since 1957, the skies over Chino, California fill with the sights and sounds of World War II aircraft. Nestled on an old Army Air Force base where the likes of 24 kill ace Gerald R. Johnson once trained, hosts this incredible event as one of its main fund raisers. These days, lucky visitors to Chino can see upwards of forty warbirds thunder overhead.

It is an awe-inspiring sight.

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My dad found the museum one day in the mid-1950s. He was out driving around with his best friend from high school and looked over to see a Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter just sitting in a field. Both boys had grown up on the Southern California coast during the war and had fallen in love with aircraft as they watched F4U Corsairs and P-38 Lightnings zooming over their homes. A Corsair even crash landed in front of my dad’s place on the Balboa Peninsula in 1945.AO5Y6509

So of course, they stopped. The museum back then was basically a field full of WWII aircraft discarded by the military and somehow acquired by the founder of Planes of Fame, Ed Maloney. One plane, a Japanese J2M Raiden fighter, had been a plaything for local kids at Griffith Park in Los Angeles before Ed acquired it. Rumor has it that some thief had pulled the seat out of it and pawned it, and Ed had to go to the shop and pay $50.00 to get it out of hock and re-install it in this incredibly rare warbird.

Back then, you paid a quarter at a tent that denoted the museum’s entrance, then walked through part of a bomber’s fuselage to enter the field of warbirds.

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As a kid living in the Silicon Valley, my dad would sometimes take me down to the Chino air shows. I still have snapshots I took in the 1970s with a 126 instamatic camera of the museum’s A6M5 Zero that had been captured on Saipan’s Aslito Field in 1944. Years later, while in graduate school at the University of Oregon, I discovered my landlady had been in charge of checking in and documenting captured Japanese aircraft as they arrived in Southern California. Quite possibly the initial paperwork the U.S. Navy generated on the Planes of Fame Zero had been filled out by Marge Goodman.AO5Y5847

Anyway, the trips down to Chino became a father-son thing for us Brunings. In 1986, we stopped going. I left for college that fall, and as graduate school and a career up in Oregon dominated my time, the chance to get to Planes of Fame became a pipe dream. Then came marriage, two kids and a new career as a military historian and writer.

Finally, after I came home from Afghanistan, we revived the tradition. Five of the last seven years, we’ve road tripped down to Chino for the air show. In 2013, we brought my son and made it a tri-generational road trip. AO5Y7833

This year, my dad and I returned and spent the weekend out at the Chino Airport, amazed and inspired by the thousands who turned out to see the old birds fly.

AO5Y5938World War II is slipping from modern memory as the few remaining veterans of it pass. It won’t be long before we won’t have anyone alive who experienced the war at all. But thanks to Planes of Fame, the visceral sensation, the raw power and speed of the planes our grandparents flew in defense of our nation will endure and live in the memories of succeeding generations. Ed Maloney was a visionary, and thanks to his aircraft rescue efforts long before anyone saw value in those aluminum bodies, the sounds and sights of these amazing machines will continue to fill the skies over Southern California for years to come.AO5Y2187

It is a truly special place. If you love aircraft, make a point of coming here someday. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be in the heart of the warbirds community.

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Below are some more photos I took this weekend at the 60th Planes of Fame air show.

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The Planes of Fame P-38J Lightning in 475th Fighter Group ace Parry Dahl’s markings.

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Warming up the CAF Mitsubishi A6M Zero on Saturday May 6, 2017

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Pilot Chris Fahey at the controls of the POF P-38. The sound of this plane’s twin Allison engines is like crack to your friendly writer.  After spending nine years researching and writing a biography on P-38 ace Col. Gerald R. Johnson, this aircraft became very dear to my heart. In the 90’s, I interviewed a lot of men who flew them in New Guinea and the Philippines during the war, and they swore by its firepower, range, speed and one-engined flight abilities.

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Mark Foster at the controls of this beautiful P-51 Mustang. It wears the markings of the 357th Fighter Group, a crack 8th Air Force unit that included Chuck Yeager and ace Bud Anderson.

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The Planes of Fame B-25 Mitchell making a pass over the Chino airport. This bird’s been used as a photographic aircraft for various aerial scenes in movies for several decades. After writing Pappy Gunn’s story in Indestructible, the side pack .50 caliber machine guns endear this bird to me. Every time I see it fly, I think the spirit of Pappy Gunn flies with it.

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A Red Air Force Yak prepares for a flight with the Korean War demonstration part of the air show.

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This year’s show included this stunning bird, a Consolidated PB4Y2 Privateer U.S. Navy patrol bomber. 

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I’d never seen a PB4Y in flight before. The first pass it made during the airshow left me absolutely speechless. Loud, slow and huge, the plane is a dominating presence. I checked my Fitbit after it thundered by and saw my heart rate was at 150. I got credit for cardio, so props to the pilots for bringing on the work-out inducing excitement in their low-altitude passes.

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When I was in 3rd grade, my Uncle Dean gave me a book for my birthday entitled, “Greatest Fighter Missions of the Top Navy and Marine Aces.” I read it in a recliner next to the T.V. for hours every night after school. I still have it, though it is beat up and missing its dust jacket. One of the chapters is called, “Trapped By Zekes at Rabaul” and details one of ace Ike Kepford’s most harrowing missions in the South Pacific. This weekend, a Corsair in Kepford’s markings went blasting past me, and I was taken instantly back to those nights curled up in that 70’s-era chair, engrossed by Edward Sims’ recounting of Ike’s miraculous escape from pursuing Japanese fighters.

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Morning on the flight line, Saturday’s sunrise shoot.

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Steve Hinton piloting an F4U in Korean War markings from VMF-214’s 1950-51 deployment. 

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A bit of movie history. This was a modified BT-13 trainer altered to look like a Japanese Aichi D3A Val dive bomber, then used in the film, “Tora Tora Tora.”

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The only place I know of where you can see two Japanese A6M Zero fighters fly. The bottom one is Planes of Fame’s Saipan Zeke.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War I, World War II, World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

A Moment at Port Moresby, 1942

pappy-in-cockpitIn the summer of ’42, Pappy Gunn flew up to Port Moresby in one of the light attack bombers he’d modified. While there, he made several bombing and strafing runs against Japanese troops advancing on Moresby through the Owen Stanley Mountain Range’s treacherous Kokoda Trail. In one of those attacks, he was wounded, and his pet lizard Sam was killed by anti-aircraft shrapnel.
Back at Moresby, Pappy endured several Japanese bombing raids. During one of those attacks, the Japanese planes destroyed Pappy’s living quarters–just a tent with a dirt floor– and blast to pieces several of the 3rd Attack Group’s precious B-25 Mitchell bombers.3rd Attack Group Wrecked B-25s at Port Moresby New Guinea 041243 I-1

The loss of those planes was critical, but Pappy suffered an equally serious personal loss that day. Inside his tent was a satchel full of receipts. He’d been using his own money to hire Aussie contractors and machine shops to build the parts he needed to modify the 3rd Attack Group’s aircraft. He intended to get the U.S. government to reimburse him later once the chaotic command and logistical situation in Australia was straightened out.3rd Attack Group Wrecked B-25s at Port Moresby New Guinea 041243 II-1

No luck. The Japanese bombs destroyed more than ten thousand dollars worth of receipts. Pappy was never repaid. In today’s dollars, Pappy contributed at least $155,000 to the creation of the first strafer gunships.

He flew back to Australia dispirited, wounded, lizardless and out enough cash to buy a good sized house.

 

For more Pappy stories….

B&N:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/indestructible-john-r-bruning/1123153862?ean=9780316339407

 

Amazon:

 

 

Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: | 5 Comments

12-7-41

arizona-explodes-at-pearl-harbor-color-4x6Not forgotten. 12-7-41.

In December 2000, I was in Tuscon interviewing survivors of the USS Arizona’s catastrophic destruction. Listening to the stories of the men who were aboard, or later returned to the wreckage of their ship to recover the remains of their brother sailors was a life changing moment.

It is imperative we stand vigilant and strong so that such a catastrophe never happens again.pearl-harbor-1-ewa-field

Thousands of Americans died today 75 years ago. Tens of thousands more would die fighting across the Pacific over the ensuing four years. Remembering them is vital. But today, I will also be remembering those in the Philippines who lost their lives on this same day as the Japanese Empire launched a massive onslaught on Southeast Asia. Ultimately, 900,000 Filipinos died as a result of the storm the Japanese unleashed on December 7th 1941.js-9d-battleship-row-pearl-harbor-aflame

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Legend of Pappy Gunn 59 Years Later

p-i-gunn-portraitOn the night of October 11, 1957, Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn was flying a Beech 18 in the Central Philippines. A sudden downforce slammed his low flying aircraft into the ground. Props damaged, fuselage and wings torn up, the Beech was probably doomed right then. But Pappy Gunn, with over 20,000 flight hours, somehow managed to firewall the throttles, gain a bit of altitude and start to turn for the nearest airfield. If he had only a few more feet of altitude, he might have made it. Instead, he struck a tree, and the Beech crashed with the loss of everyone on board.
Pappy used to say he would die before he was sixty with his boots on and the throttles firewalled. That is exactly how he went out 59 years today.
In a fluke of circumstance and serendipity, today our biography of Pappy Gunn and his family reached bookstore (and Costco) shelves around the country he so loved.
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When I was a kid, I read about the legend of Pappy Gunn in an Air Classics Magazine article. Later, I read General Kenney’s book about him. Those of you who have been in my life since college know I pretty much became obsessed in the 1990s with telling the story of Oregon’s top ace, Gerald Johnson. While researching Gerald’s life, I encounter many men who also flew with Pappy Gunn. They told me crazy stories about this remarkable man that made me want to write about him as well someday.
npc-54I spent a lot of time on road tripping around the country from 2010 on; many of you have followed my shenanigans here on FB as I’ve passionately explored our beautiful country and its history from the left seat of the Goat. I’ve met a lot of people, had a lot of special moments from walking the Selma Bridge and sitting at Rosa Parks’ bus stop to chance encounters with destitute and desperate Americans, farmers and people my age grimly trying to build a second career after losing their first one in the 08 recession.

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On those trips, it has felt like we’re a country that has lost its way. People want to believe in the American dream, that all things are still possible, but too many of us have been clinging to what we have, desperate not to lose our houses or cars or families in the midst of war, Recession and domestic turmoil, that the pride we once felt in who we are and what we have accomplished has been dimmed.1935779_1249689682837_1701706_n

Pappy Gunn always inspired me. In moments where I was bullied in school, or feeling trapped in the cubicle world of the computer game business, or smothered by red tape as I tried to do something positive for my community on the city council and school board–his never say die spirit reminded me that great things can be accomplished by average Americans.

pappy-in-cockpitWhy? Because we are an exceptional people. I don’t care your color, gender, sexual identity–we are a tapestry of unusual awesome. No other country has such a vast spectrum of human experience, talent, ability, values, and outlooks. Yes, it makes us fractious and nasty at times like now, but collectively it gives us the power to change the world. And we have been doing that for two hundred plus years. From the first imperfect, but radical ideas of freedom and liberty to the hundreds of thousands who perished in combat to extend freedom’s reach, to the social and technological revolutions we have started–computers, television, vehicles, industry, psychology and space travel. Historians and football players can say America was never great, but to say Americans are not exceptional is to insult every great one who has found the courage to stride into the wind and change the world for the better. Rosa. Martin. Ike. Lincoln, Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Blackburn. Pappy Gunn. The list could go on for thousands of pages.G86A0419

Great Americans come from all walks of life. In Indestructible, I wrote about one family that came from humble origins to face challenges few of us today could ever imagine. They handled it as a family: full of love and trust for each other. Devoted and willing to do anything to ensure each other’s survival.gunnfamily
I wrote Indestructible as my twentieth book because Pappy Gunn is a quintessential American hero. I wrote Indestructible now at this point in my life because underneath Pappy’s story is the story of his wife and children. He was not the only hero in his family. Courage was a trait they all shared.g15-pappy-polly-dutch-k
It seemed to me as I drove around the country that if I could just remind my readers of who we are and what we can accomplish when our backs are to the wall, well, maybe we can all take pride in our national identity again. I didn’t have the courage to take a leap and try to do that until my daughter gave me a push. Hachette and all the incredible people there who believe in the book and the power of Pappy’s story made this dream a reality.11336857_10205693155425566_3210305845677159996_o
I suck at selling stuff, always have. But if you’ve looked around our country these past years and felt like I have–that we just need a win. If you want to feel good about ourselves again and be reassured that we are stronger than recession, war, elections and domestic turmoil—then I hope you will crack open a copy of Indestructible. Pappy’s story carried me through some of the darkest times of my life and inspired me to turn into the wind and fight for a future that I believe in. If his story inspires the same response in my readers, then I will consider this my most meaningful professional success.14264819_10208929708613898_4964300419684423464_n
Thank you for reading to the end of this massive missive. Bless all of you, my friends. And thank you for all the love and support you have shown me and my family these many years.
John R. Bruning
Categories: World War II in the Pacific, Writing Notes | Tags: | Leave a comment

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