Author Archives: John R Bruning

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

Amazon Book of October!

pappy-in-cockpitMy Friends,

I’m very humbled and very excited to report¬†that Amazon selected Indestructible as one of its Best Books of October!
I want to take a minute and thank everyone who has pre-ordered this labor of love. I know that it is delayed gratification to do it, something I hate too, but those pre-orders are incredibly important for the book’s launch. So, it is much appreciated, especially since each book purchased equals about 15 more seconds I can keep Renee in college.ūüôā

We are also up to 29 reviews on Amazon through the pre-release Vine program. Pleased to report that I won’t need to day drink after reading them! The story of Pappy Gunn and his family is having a profound impact on our readers.

Thank you all again, your support and interest makes possible what I love doing.

 

John R. Bruning

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https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316339407/ref=s9_acsd_al_bw_c_x_9?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-3&pf_rd_r=FCSFGH2CPSHWMNYNWME0&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=a2807aab-f710-480a-9a8b-148441f0f1f0&pf_rd_i=6458662011

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

The Liberation of Santo Tomas Internment Camp

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Indestructible is not just the story of Pappy Gunn, the legendary aviator and mad genius of the 5th Air Force. It is the story of his family’s experience during World War II as Pappy went to extraordinary lengths to rescue them from the hellish conditions of Japanese captivity in Santo Tomas University Internment Camp.

In 1945, when the camp was liberated, Pappy’s family nearly died during a Japanese artillery bombardment that struck the university. I recently drove to Texas and interviewed Nat Gunn, Pappy’s son, on camera about his experiences during WWII. The moment he describes in this interview was one of the most difficult scenes to write in Indestructible. But I thought it was extremely important; Pappy was not the only hero in the Gunn family.

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The Legendary Pappy Gunn

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Perhaps no figure in American aviation history had as colorful–and painful– career as Pappy Gunn. During World War II, Pappy was shot down twice in Beech 18 airliners (painted red), was wounded at least seven times, possibly nine, ordered a surgeon to amputate his pinky after he repeatedly fractured it while working on A-20’s and B-25’s, and on one ground support mission took a piece of AA shrapnel in the hand that not only wounded him, but killed his pet lizard, Sam.

Hundreds of combat missions, thousands of flight hours in the Pacific. He fought two wars, one against the Japanese and one against the USAAF’s rear echelon brass. He is credited with doing more to win the war against Japan than anyone else below the rank of general.

Not bad for a middle aged guy with a sixth grade education who was running an airline at the outset of the war.

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

Coming October 11th, the epic life of Aviation Legend Pappy Gunn

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Our Election Day, 2010

eric-west-shortly-before-departure-from-ghazni-after-a-refueling-stopSix years ago today the Afghan people turned out to vote in a national election. September 18th became one of those dotted line moments in my life. The Chinook I was aboard, #262, suffered catastrophic mechanical failure. I remember seeing smoke coming out of a panel above the crew chief’s head as he stood on the ramp with a screw driver opening things up to see what was going on. A moment later, Joe Speal‘s voice came over the headset, “Land this aircraft now!” Jeric East dropped us right out the sky onto a dry lake bed at the foot of a rugged, sawtooth range of mountains in the Hindu Kush. Their skillful handling of a dire situation ensured I’d be able to see Renee graduate first in her class this year.

6a00e553b244e188340133f5113d78970bFlying out of Savannah to San Jose in a few hours. Going to be drinking a toast to the crew of 262, to Local Union for coming to our rescue, the Polish infantry we had aboard who also kept us safe, and the Apache crews who circled overhead with enough menace to keep the Taliban at bay.

And, another big toast to Kyle Evarts, a Chinook pilot whose bravery and commitment to protecting those around him went beyond the extraordinary. I’ll never forget getting off the ramp, looking up and Seeing Kyle sweeping down on the deck to circle us and keep us safe until more help arrived. I was on a subsequent mission and watched Kyle go to the aid of some 173rd Airborne troops who had just been hit with an IED and were under small arms fire. Never seen a Chinook flown so aggressively and with such skill.

Earlier that day, I encountered Cass Wyllie for the first time. She & her command pilot were at FOB Ghazni refueling when we showed up before heading out to Ajerestan and our mechanical incident. I had no idea there were female gunship pilots in the brigade, so I took some photos of her, noticing her personalized helmet. The next day, when we went back to COP Ajerestan, I noticed the helmet again under very different circumstances.

That chance encounter at Ghazni has led to one of the most important friendships I’ve had since. So, Cass, I’ll be drinking a toast to you today as well.

The piece I wrote about this day, “We’re Not Leaving You Brother” ended up receiving a Thomas Jefferson Award that year, which aside from the accomplishments of my children is among the most meaningful things that has happened to me. I remember finding out about it over Facebook fromDwayne, and was totally astonished. I did not even know I’d been nominated. I sat in my library and remembered that day, feeling like all the effort, expense and personal cost it took to get to Afghanistan meant something after all.

With all the toasts, I’ll probably not be sober by the time I board my flight. But to all the folks in TF Brawler–thank you for everything. Being out with you was the most meaningful thing I’ve done professionally.

-JohnB

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The story of that day is here.
http://www.theunawriterslair.com/…/were-not-leaving-you-bro…

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The Volunteers, 2016

This past weekend, our volunteer OPFOR group, the 973rd Civilians on the Battlefield, spent a day at the Biak Training Center working with 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, Oregon National Guard. The 973rd was founded in 2008 to provide training support to the Guard and law enforcement, and the relationship between the Volunteers of 2-162 and the volunteers of the 973rd has always been a close one. After a three year hiatus, the two groups reunited in the Central Oregon Desert for a day of squad level field exercises.

Some photos from the range:

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SFC Steve Warming, veteran of the 2-162’s Iraq deployment in 04-05, leads a hot wash after a squad assault.

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Advancing under simulated fire.

 

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An M249 SAW gunner suppresses a 973rd two man element.

 

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Shawn Jenkins, veteran of 2-162’s 2004 deployment to Iraq and member of the 973rd, gets searched following a simulated firefight.

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Gabe Sapp served with Bravo 2-162 during the 04-05 deployment. He ETS’ed in 05 and came back into the Guard last fall. In his civilian life, he is a Corvallis, Oregon police officer.

 

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Looking out for trouble.

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Sergeant Chase Howe leads his squad forward.

 

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Sergeant Howe reacts to the 973rd’s ambush.

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Stalking the 973rd’s ambush element.

 

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American Warrior.

 

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The 973rd at Biak Training Center, Redmond Oregon August 2016

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B-25 Chronology

BPG (Before Pappy Gunn):

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APG (After Pappy Gunn):

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Categories: Uncategorized, World War II, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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