The story of how one man’s struggle to free his family after the fall of the Philippines in World War II inspired him to create new weapons systems that hastened the Allied victory.
Military historian Bruning (Battle for the North Atlantic: The Strategic Naval Campaign that Won World War II in Europe, 2013, etc.) tells the story of Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn (1899-1957), a former Navy man who rose through the ranks to become one of the hottest aviators in the service before retiring to start Philippine Air Lines. Living in Manila with his wife and children, Gunn enjoyed the good life—yet he well knew the danger of Japanese expansion. After Pearl Harbor, he laid plans to get them to safety using his company’s planes. But the situation deteriorated faster than anyone expected, and Gunn was back in the war effort, using the airline’s planes to move Army personnel and equipment. When Manila fell, he was on a long-distance mission, too far away to save his family, who went into a prison camp. Gunn’s attempts to find a way back to rescue them never got off the ground; instead, he turned to tinkering on planes. His major coup was converting the B-25 medium bomber into a gunship, a new weapon that turned the tide against the Japanese navy. Bruning also follows the family’s grueling experiences in the prison. This is a compelling story with strong characters and a wealth of fascinating incidents, set against some of the fiercest action of the war. However, the author spends too much time going into bits of back story; while these passages fill in the portrait of Gunn, they slow down the flow of the main story. Bruning’s writing is workmanlike but never really smooth, and he sometimes neglects the larger context. Fortunately, the subject matter is strong enough, on the whole, to carry readers along.
Certainly flawed, but it should appeal to readers who enjoy a good adventure and/or war story.