Writing Notes

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.
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.


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.🙂

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




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

The Liberation of Santo Tomas Internment Camp



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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Mother’s Day 2016

To Moms across our country who have sons and daughters guarding our nation’s ramparts in this time of war, my family’s thoughts are with you on this Sunday morning. Your trials and suffering, the fear late at night and the questions that linger in moments of solitude are understood by so few. Yet without your love, support and endurance, the defense of our country would not be possible. Yours is a journey few ask for, but many need. Bless you, and may your sons and daughters return home soon to your loving arms.

–John R. Bruning


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Historians and their Animals

Today we kick off our theamericanwarrior.com podcast series!  This week, we’ll be talking about a little-known characteristic historians have in common–the way we name our pets.

Hope you’ll listen in as Renee Bruning and I (John R. Bruning) chat about World War II battles, Civil War generals and foundling kittens.

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What’s Ahead in 2016

IMG_8115 Dear Friends,

I wanted to take a moment and thank each of you for coming to visit my little corner of the web. Last year, the site’s readership exploded. We went from having a few visits every month to thousands a day at times, something that both elated and surprised me. As a writer, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing the words we write resonate out there and find an audience.

Roald Dahl, the great children’s author, wrote, “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

I read that book to my daughter, Renee when she was little, and that passage always stuck with me. Every time we’ve had a book released, I circle back to that quote and wonder where the winds will take it. With this website, I don’t have to wonder, the feedback is virtually instantaneous, something I truly love. I’ve sat here in wonder looking at all the folks from around the world who have come to look at my words, the photos and videos here, and I cannot help but to marvel at this amazing technology. I am profoundly grateful for every visit. So thank you, Dear Reader. Your interest has made this site a focal point of my life.

In the months to come, we’re going to be leveraging technology even more here. We’ll be starting a podcast series soon that will cover a rage of topics and highlight plenty of nearly forgotten American warriors. I’ll be bringing in some guests, doing some interviews, and having a lot of fun with the studio equipment we just picked up to pull this off.IMG_0328

We’re working on a new mini-documentary that we’ll serialize here later in the spring. We’ve acquired some color footage rarely seen before from both the ETO and PTO during WWII, and we’ll be acquiring more over the coming year.

On May 3rd, Indestructible will hit bookstores. This is a book I’ve wanted to write since I was a kid marveling at the tales told by George Kenney and the likes of Ed Sims & Martin Caidin in their books.  Indestructible is the story of Pappy Gunn and his family’s experience during the Pacific War. In researching the book, I compiled something like 30,000 pages of documents and many, many stories about Pappy that we did not have room to include in the main narrative. To support the release, throughout May and June, I’ll be posting additional stories, documents and videos about Pappy, his family and friends.

540083_136587323139361_1939119800_nA little later this year, I’ll be embedding with an artillery battalion during their annual field training exercise and will be posting stories, photos and videos about the men & women behind the guns.

We’ll also be following up on some of the stories posted last year. Most notably, thanks to y’all out there in cyberspace,  The Last, Lost Letter reached Frank Christen’s surviving relatives. Though his widow passed in 2004, his sister and her family finally received closure and read Frank’s final words home. When his family contacted me…well, all I can say is that have been few professional moments in my life more powerful and rewarding. So stay tuned for an update on that article in the weeks ahead.

Of course, we’ll be updating Gwenie’s story. Our Jordanian refugee continues to grow, get into trouble and cause mayhem wherever she goes.  We’ll be following year two of her experience in Oregon after being rescued in Amman by Captain Cassie Wyllie, one of my favorite humans.IMG_3784

Thanks again for making this all possible. Looking forward to a tremendous 2016, and thank you again for your interest and support!


John R. Bruning & Gwenie



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To Those Who Wear the Flag

Smoke rises behind a Charlie Company HUMVEE from a car that charged the scene firing at the unit. Charlie Company returned fire, stopping the car, to secure the area, during increased tension in Sadr City, Iraq on July 5, 2004. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Ashley Brokop (Released)

To all those men and women who go to work every day with our flag on their shoulder:


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You are part of a legacy of service that transcends national interest, but fights for basic human rights. For two hundred years, those who have worn the uniform have stood in the eye of the storm to protect those basic human rights. From the outset, Americans in uniform have changed the world, reshaped it, destroyed the oppression of the British Empire, ensured the evil of slavery would be destroyed–despite the brutal cost–freed Europe twice, saved millions from genocide, reshaped the Free World and held the line against religious extremism that threatens it.vietnam color series810 4x6

To wear the flag means you are a game-changer. Every generation’s men and women in uniform have made a difference from Lexington Green to the Qalats of rural Afghanistan.

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This day is for all of you with the courage to serve and fight.



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Happy Veteran’s Day,


John R. Bruning

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Categories: American Warriors, Uncategorized, Writing Notes | Tags: | 1 Comment

Back from the Writing Marathon


Cabanistan, my writing retreat.

Friends and Readers,


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Digby in the woods during a rare break in his woodland critter spree killing.

My apologies for being absent from this page for these past few months. Gwen and Digby (another foundling cat) have been up in the Oregon mountains with me as I’ve separated myself from daily life to get the Indestructible manuscript finished. Frankly, it got pretty lonely up there in the Cascades away from the family. At times I went two weeks without seeing anyone besides the clerk at the nearest market four miles away.  The last month up there is all sort of a blur, but I do believe I began to talk to the trees and at some point befriended a mouse that kept getting into the cabin to eat my English muffins. At one point, he ate half a tomato sitting on the kitchen counter while I was in the shower and Digby the cat sacked out on the couch. That level of brazen had to be rewarded, so I began feeding him too. Digby and DeShawn (the mouse) entered into some sort of unholy domestic-woodland creature alliance that ensured there would be no bloodshed between them.


The family came up with Ryder for a weekend. I wanted to sing Some Enchanted Evening when Ryder and Gwen spotted each other for the first time in a week. (Ryder is the blur at the bottom left).

When at home in the Willamette Valley, Digby is a lazy, dump truck sized cat with a big waddle of fat that slops from side to side on those rare moments where he engages in any sort of cardio exercise. See the video below for his inspiring mellowness. If he were a person, he’d be that 25 year old kid playing Xbox all day in his grandma’s basement eating funions and drinking Mountain Dew. Passive, perpetually happy and mild mannered, Digby turned into a murderous beclawed machine of death when I took him up into the Cascades with me. Seriously, I thought I brought a furry lump with which to decorate the couch. Instead, I unleashed a spree killer on the local woodland creatures. He’d go outside, and within minutes, voles, mice, rats, chipmonks and even a salamander ended up victimized. So I ended up living for a month with the feline version of Hannibal Lechter, yet he never ate DeShawn–the one creature inside the cabin.11885276_10206361739579752_7239250386173235472_n - Copy

Gwen hung out with me at times up there too, but our now-full grown Jordanian refugee spent her time in the woods pining for Ryder, our Aussie Shepherd. As much as she is my dog, her heart belongs to the Aussie. While I wrote, she would pace restlessly around the cabin, occasionally howling as she looked around for Ryder and wondered why anyone could be so cruel as to separate her from her pack.  Long walks and runs to the lake didn’t seem to calm her down. At one point, she decided to eat some of my secondary sources including a volume of Cate & Craven’s history of the USAAF during WWII.  I draw the line at chewing up books, so Gwen went back to the valley and Digby stayed with me to ensure the enforced solitude would not cause long-term insanity.

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Thanks to the drought, not much water in the lake this summer.

Anyhoo, once I finished Indestructible, I came out of isolation and have been enjoying some much needed family time. My daughter Renee is a senior in high school now, and I am determined to see as much of her final year as I can. Ed is a freshman, just had his first slow dance, and is in the school’s fall musical. So, I’ve been spending my time photographing their fall term and taking lots of walks with Ryder and Gwen.

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Renee’s first day of senior year with her new ride, which was my first ride. Anyone know what it is??

I’m back to it now, and in the coming weeks, we’ll have some unusual stories to share here, including an update on the Last Lost Letter,  a story about a legendary Marine’s shower shoes, and how they went from Guadalcanal to Tarawa with two different great American warriors. We’ll also have more stories to share from the Japanese side of the Pacific War and some fantastic photographs from the Korean War So stay tuned, and happy Fall to all of you!


Ed and I on prom night last spring, right before I went into the woods for the first major writing session for Indestructible.






John R. Bruning


Warriors of the Homeland. Eugene Police Department training in an active shooter exercise.


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Summer Writing Marathon

C.4.2 PAL Beechcraft pre war

One of the Philippine Air Line Beech 18’s. Pappy flew this unarmed aircraft in combat during the early part of the war.

Dear Friends,

I haven’t posted much over the past six weeks, but that will soon change. I’ve got a backlog of amazing stories culled from documents and interviews that I am eager to share with y’all. Right now, I’m furiously trying to finish my 20th book, Indestructible, which is a fresh look at the life of Paul “Pappy” Gunn, the legendary pilot and mad genius of General Kenney’s 5th Air Force.G86A7842

I’m currently holed up in a tiny cabin in the Willamette National Forest to make sure I have no distractions. Getting up here was a challenge, as the research for the book filled an SUV and my GTO. I’m currently surrounded by two dozen five inch binders full of documents, letters, diaries, etc., along with scores of books, two computers, six external hard drives filled with more documents and photos etc. Today it rained up here in the woods, which made me quite happy. The forest is so dry that I’ve been a bit worried the fire conditions. I don’t need all this stuff consumed in a blaze during the last push to deliver the manuscript. 🙂


Part of the Gunn Family’s legacy in Quitman, Arkansas.

Anyway, more stories and things to come!





Pappy’s father’s grave in Quitman, Arkansas.

John R. Bruning

Categories: Writing Notes | 3 Comments

The Human Cost of Indecision

Shock and Awe, the war on ISIS is not. The junior varsity team President Obama has repeatedly denigrated has spent this spring scoring a series of strategic victories that has left the U.S.-backed Iraqi Army in shambles. Our response? Seventeen air strikes since mid-May. An Air Force general violated the basic tenants of OPSEC to crow about bombing a building. Oh, and the President admitted this week that we don’t have a strategy.

We have spent the last year proving that you cannot fight a war half-heartedly and expect anything but an enemy victory.

The long-term security ramifications of our weak response to ISIS are extremely troublesome. ISIS has been given time to develop tactics to counter our firepower and technology. They’ve become even more effective on the battlefield. They’ve now got thousands of American armored vehicles that they have captured from the Iraqis. Their recent assault on Ramadi included waves of explosive-laden Humvees driven by suicide bombers into Iraqi Army defenses. Their strategic mobility in the face of our complete air superiority demonstrates a masterful grasp of logistics and camouflage.

The longer the West lets ISIS survive, the more capable they become. Australian intelligence reports now indicate that ISIS has acquired enough radiological material from captured hospitals or other sources that they can now build an effective dirty bomb.

If the Australians are right, the junior varsity has the capacity to build and deploy a WMD. This is the same junior varsity that tortured a fourteen year old boy to death on camera for propaganda purposes, and recently threw three gay men off a hundred foot tall building in Mosul before a crowd of hundreds of onlookers who had been armed with rocks and told to finish off the prisoners should they miraculously survive the fall. ISIS has institutionalized violence, torture, mass killings and then glorifies their brutality with internet propaganda videos. If anyone thinks ISIS will show restraint with WMD weapons, or will negotiate them away in some future diplomatic summit, they are delusional.

Our policy has been to supply and train the Iraqi Army. That policy has failed. If there are any doubts of that, just look at the numerous photos and footage of ISIS fighters wearing American ACU’s, carrying M4 rifles with ACOG scopes and using American-made Hummvees and even M1 tanks.

Meanwhile, the Kurds are fighting bravely with fierce determination and are begging for weapons and ammunition since the Baghdad government has played politics with such deliveries. The Kurds are about the only ones who have resolutely fought ISIS, and the West has not properly armed or equipped them. One wonders what they could have done with all the armored vehicles and weaponry the Iraqi Army left behind for ISIS.

A good step in the right direction would be to give the Kurds everything they need. But that’s only a step on a much longer path ahead if the human agony we are witnessing in the Middle East is to ever be stopped.

What is going on here is a slow motion train wreck caused by the United States’ refusal to lead a coalition of the willing into delivering decisive military intervention in the Middle East. Instead, the half-measures and over-reliance on a dysfunctional Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed Shia militias has only prolonged the anguish of countless innocents now living under ISIS rule. These were the very people for whom American blood was shed for so many years the previous decade. Now, we have thrown them to the wolves, and their suffering is our shame. The longer the West continues to half-heartedly fight this war—a war against an energized and dedicated foe—the more civilians will perish in horrifying ways. To not intervene decisively will only ensure their blood is on the West’s hands. History will not forget the abandonment of these defenseless people, and the global implications of our betrayal of them will linger for generations.


John R Bruning



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