One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII


By John R Bruning

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In this remarkable WWII story by New York Times bestselling author John R. Bruning, a renegade American pilot fights against all odds to rescue his family — imprisoned by the Japanese–and revolutionizes modern warfare along the way.

From the knife fights and smuggling runs of his youth to his fiery days as a pioneering naval aviator, Paul Irving “Pappy” Gunn played by his own set of rules and always survived on his wits and fists. But when he fell for a conservative Southern belle, her love transformed him from a wild and reckless airman to a cunning entrepreneur whose homespun engineering brilliance helped launch one of the first airlines in Asia.

Pappy was drafted into MacArthur’s air force when war came to the Philippines; and while he carried out a top-secret mission to Australia, the Japanese seized his family. Separated from his beloved wife, Polly, and their four children, Pappy reverted to his lawless ways. He carried out rescue missions with an almost suicidal desperation. Even after he was shot down twice and forced to withdraw to Australia, he waged a one-man war against his many enemies — including the American high command and the Japanese–and fought to return to the Philippines to find his family.

Without adequate planes, supplies, or tactics, the U.S. Army Air Force suffered crushing defeats by the Japanese in the Pacific. Over the course of his three-year quest to find his family, Pappy became the renegade who changed all that. With a brace of pistols and small band of loyal fol,lowers, he robbed supply dumps, stole aircraft, invented new weapons, and modified bombers to hit harder, fly farther, and deliver more destruction than anything yet seen in the air. When Pappy’s modified planes were finally unleashed during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, the United States scored one of the most decisive victories of World War II.

Taking readers from the blistering skies of the Pacific to the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines to one of the the war’s most notorious prison camps, Indestructible traces one man’s bare-knuckle journey to free the people he loved and the aerial revolution he sparked that continues to resonate across America’s modern battlefields.



March 3, 1943

Thirty miles off the Northern New Guinea Coast

The sharks fed, and men screamed. Those who could fought back, kicking and punching in desperation as the great whites and hammerheads reared up from the depths, their jaws snapping off limbs or tearing men in half. The dead lay floating around the living, blood so thick on the whitecapped swells that those who bore witness to the scene swore the Bismarck Sea turned red that day.

A lucky few found refuge in battered lifeboats, or had scrabbled atop hunks of debris left over from a dozen shipwrecks. Others floated in life belts, treading water among the corpses and wreckage. Thousands had already died. The wounded cried for help they knew would not come.

A sound rose in the distance. At first, it was weak, a mere buzzing barely heard over the chaos on the waves.

The broken men fearfully turned their eyes skyward. The Americans had returned. A few readied waterlogged bolt action rifles or light machine guns they'd carried over the sides of their sinking ships. Such weapons offered a pitiful defense to the juggernaut fast approaching, but they were all they had left. Their air force had been vanquished. Their navy had either been destroyed or driven off. Now, these men bobbed in the Bismarck Sea and knew there would be no miracle to save them.

The sounds of onrushing engines grew deafening, but the straining men could see no aircraft. In the distance, a few appeared thousands of feet above them. Those made no difference to the men in the water, and they were not the ones whose engines filled their ears. The real threat remained unseen.

The water churned around them as if pummeled by rain from a tropical storm. Lifeboats were torn apart, the debris raked by the bullets from scores of heavy machine guns. Their thunderous reports reached the survivors' ears a moment later. Dark, predatory shadows sped over them. The American bombers came in so low and so fast they couldn't be seen until they were practically overhead.

They were new weapons, engineered for a new type of air warfare that had caught the men in the water completely by surprise. There had been no effective defense against them, and their ships were transformed into bullet-riddled conflagrations in mere minutes. In retrospect, the lucky ones had died aboard ship.

The growling engines receded, but only for a moment. They would return for another pass.

Nine thousand feet above the death and misery in the water, the middle-aged pilot, a father of four and a devoted husband who had engineered their fate, watched the scene below through eyes once full of mirth and now devoid of mercy.

All the while, the sharks continued to feed.

Part One

Philippine Odyssey


The Last Normal Day

December 1941
Manila, Philippines

In a handmade four poster bed, beneath a white, homespun quilt, Paul Irvin "P.I." Gunn lay beside his wife of twenty years. Polly's almond-colored hair, always meticulously braided, adorned her pillow. They slept close, paired as lovers whose fire for each other never ebbed. Other couples came and went. These two had thrived despite everything a hard and dangerous life threw at them.

On P.I.'s nightstand rested a standard U.S. Navy BUSHIPS Hamilton wristwatch, a legacy of a career now four years in his rearview mirror, but still worn every day. Slim, solidly built, and scuffed from countless adventures, the timepiece matched P.I.'s own physical traits perfectly. Over the years, both man and watch survived everything from raging ocean storms to plane crashes and combat missions over Nicaragua in underpowered biplanes. The watch had become part of the man long ago. The tiny second hand spun out another minute until the watch showed precisely four thirty.

In the bed, P.I.'s gray-blue eyes shot open. He flung back the quilt and sat up like an uncoiling spring. For him, there was no slow transition between sleep and consciousness. Like the flip of a light switch, he went from dormant to full power every morning at exactly 0430. He never needed an alarm clock; his own internal one was better than anything even the Swiss could produce.

His bare feet found the polished hardwood floor, which the family's servants buffed with coconut husks they strapped to their feet. That weekly process was a source of fascination for P.I. and Polly's two young boys.

"Hit the deck!" P.I. called out, his voice booming through the house. A moment later, he padded into the bathroom to put in his teeth. Long ago, while pioneering the use of float planes on Navy warships, he'd landed his aircraft beside a cruiser and taxied up alongside it. A crane swung out over the side and hooked his aircraft with a cable. As the crew winched the craft aboard, a huge swell slammed broadside into the vessel, which caused it to list sharply, before rolling back on an even keel. The sudden movement flung P.I.'s plane like a pendulum—directly into the cruiser's side. The force of the impact threw P.I. face-first into the instrument panel so hard it permanently damaged his teeth. Later, he had a dentist pull them all and make him a set of dentures.

His morning routine was short and to the point. He turned the shower on, waiting impatiently for the hot water to come. He had stuff to do and patience never suited him. The water warmed and he stepped inside. He showered quickly—no lingering there to enjoy the water on his middle-aged muscles. Showers were functional necessities, not indulgences. He finished and pulled a towel off the nearby rack.

Long ago, back when he wore leather and silk to work every morning, he learned to shave at night. It was an old pilot trick, passed from one generation to the next in the era of the open cockpit biplane. Silk scarves helped protect a pilot's neck from chafing against leather collars, but the wind would whip raw freshly shaved skin. Those who dared the early fabric and wood flying machines were uncomfortable enough in basket seats and freezing environs, so they took to scraping their stubble before bedtime in order to give their flesh time to toughen back up.

Though his open cockpit days were long past, P.I. was nothing if not a creature of habit.

He finished drying off and grabbed his clothes. Despite the tropical heat, P.I. always favored long-sleeved khaki button-down shirts for work. Part of this was a sense of professionalism. Mostly, though, it was a way of hiding an indiscretion from his past life.

He slipped into the shirt, the left sleeve concealing a pair of tattoos. One on his forearm depicted an American eagle clutching the U.S. Navy shield. The Statue of Liberty adorned his left shoulder, an embodiment of P.I.'s youthful sense of American exceptionalism.

He once caught his youngest child, Nathan, staring at his tattoos. P.I. quickly covered them up as he told his boy, "Nath, if I ever spot anything like these on you, I'll whup the hell outta ya."

They were the result of a sailor's shore leave somewhere in the Caribbean during the 1920s, when P.I. had served aboard the light cruiser USS Omaha. He was an enlisted man back then, and tattoos were part of the culture.

Now, in this new life, he was upper management. He would never be a stuffy, buttoned-up, chained-to-a-desk office type, but he had gone from earning a few hundred a month as a senior chief petty officer in the Navy to bringing home over a thousand a month in the Philippines. Now, instead of working alongside weathered grease monkeys, his professional circle included some of the wealthiest people in the world. People who looked askance at something as lowbrow as a tattoo.

There was more to Pappy's past that could not be covered up with a shirt. His was a complex and sometimes tortured past. He had once been defined by his family's socioeconomic station in their tiny town back home in Arkansas. In his teens, he recklessly tried to break free of those Southern small-town judgments and create a new life for himself. He was successful—at least until the law intervened.

Since then, he abandoned his birthplace and had seen the world. Along the way, he invented and reinvented himself many times, layer added atop layer, until he had become a mix of often contradictory elements. No one person ever saw every layer, but Polly came closer than anyone else.

P.I. buttoned his sleeve cuffs and reached for his tie. Solid black, the same one he had worn in the Navy. He finished off with a pair of brown oxfords, another nod to his days at sea. Naval aviators wore brown shoes. Everyone else in the fleet wore black. Through his twenty years, the tension between the black shoes and the brown shoes never abated. If anything, those final years were frequently colored with open hostility between the two factions as the battleship admirals fought to retain their sense of maritime supremacy in the face of air power's revolutionary bombs and torpedoes.

All that rancor between the upstart pilots and the myopic, hidebound fleet types now lay in P.I.'s past. But that pioneering spirit he and his fellow aviators cultivated, that sense of openness to new ideas and innovation, had long since become a defining feature of P.I.'s character. He had no time for those who lacked the vision to see how technology could transform the future.

He bent down and laced up his oxfords while calling out, "Merced! Let's get some coffee going!" Merced was the family's hired cook. Coming to Manila in 1939, P.I. was a little overwhelmed at first by the finishes of polite American society there. Americans were expected to have Filipino servants and butlers and chauffeurs, and they could be hired so cheaply that even enlisted soldiers living off post around Fort McKinley could afford at least one.

His family went from struggling to making it month to month to being waited on hand and foot. Polly, an accomplished and devoted chef in her own right, arrived in the Philippines to find her primary place in the household usurped. When she tried to help prepare the family's meals, the cook pushed back and rebuffed her efforts. So she fired him after checking with P.I. Merced joined the staff a short time later and had no issues with Polly's involvement in the kitchen.

P.I. reached for his watch and strapped it on. The Philippines was the Promised Land for his family. The four children were being educated in first-rate private schools. Polly's load around the household was eased, and now she passed her days with the children or volunteering at the local Red Cross with the wives of other upper middle class families.

Meanwhile, there were layers to P.I.'s new life in the Far East. At first glance, he was a pioneer again in his second career. How many could say that? No wonder he loved the Philippines. Here was opportunity, growth, a wide-open realm full of potential needing only a fulcrum like Paul Gunn to seize the moment and achieve something truly great and lasting. Yet, there was more to his presence in the Philippines than his entrepreneurial spirit. Much more.

He ran a comb through his chestnut hair—a bit thinner than it had been when he had landed a biplane on America's first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley—but time had not robbed it of its luster. Hard work and passion kept him young, and P.I. didn't look anywhere close to his forty-one years. He evaded the dreaded midlife paunch, and crow's feet had yet to land on his face.

He turned to regard the bed and its rumpled covers. The quilt they used as a bedspread had been sewn by Polly's mom and her friends back in Florida, spending hours on the back porch of the family's Pensacola house, creating quilts for every member of the family. Polly and P.I. received several, and the four kids each slept under their own Pensacola quilts. When the sewing cabal tired of bed coverings, they crocheted tablecloths and place settings. Polly hoarded the most delicate and precious of those in a cedar chest kept in the dining room, where they were used only for the most formal occasions.

The bed was empty now. Polly was accustomed to this predawn routine. As soon as P.I. hit the shower she'd be up, bundled in a robe, and off to go rouse the children and make sure breakfast reached the table.

There were two constants in P.I.'s life at home. The first would always be Polly and the love they shared. The spark between them first flared two decades before at a church picnic in Pensacola and burned bright through every storm life flung their way.

The second was that four-poster spool bed. Polly's father had lovingly crafted it from maple and gifted it to them on their wedding day. It was a beautiful work of art. He made the spools on each post with a lathe, carefully carving the ornate, threadlike pattern into all four with remarkable precision.

The transient nature of a life in the Navy did not lend itself to such a large, heavy family heirloom, but Polly resolutely ensured that their spool post bed hopscotched across the country with them from base to base as P.I.'s career thrived. From Florida, it had made its way to San Diego, then to Honolulu, finally arriving on a Manila dock two years before with the rest of the family's belongings. Home for P.I. was where Polly was. And where Polly was, their bed would always be.

P.I. swept downstairs and into the kitchen, where Merced was busy carving a grapefruit into decorative pieces. Food was an artistic medium for him, something that P.I. never really understood even after months of eating his intricately sliced carrots and mangos and other treats. Making pretty food seemed a waste of time to him. After all, it was just going to be eaten anyway, right? For Merced, presentation was as important as taste.

He pulled a tin of sardines out of the fridge; a luxury item they had gone years without during his Navy career. Peeling the foil back, he extracted one and walked into the laundry room where Amos, the bright orange tabby cat P.I. had adopted from a departing U.S. Army captain, waited patiently by his dish.

"Honestly, P.I., why do you feed him sardines?" Polly had asked more than once.

The answer was always the same: "That's what the captain fed him. So that's what we'll feed him."

He fussed over Amos, scratched his head and that spot behind his ears the cat loved. A moment later, Dingo, the family's well-traveled Aussie shepherd, climbed out of his laundry room nest to get in on the attention.

Once he greeted Dingo, P.I. stormed into the dining room charged with energy, a contrast to his two sleepy-eyed sons, Paul and Nathan, who sat with Polly at the table. P.I.'s chair was always at the head, and he dropped into it as he wished his boys good morning. Even seated, he looked like a man in motion.

Merced piled the table with pretty food, delicately cut and arranged on white china. Fruit, pancakes, oatmeal, eggs—whatever each member of the family wanted lay within easy reach.

This morning, the table was two members short. Daughters Connie and Julie were up at Baguio, the Philippine summer capital, cheering on their high school's basketball squad. They departed Friday night and would not be back until dinner time Sunday night.

This overnight excursion was a big step for P.I. His teenage daughters took after their mother; they were stunners. Connie in particular had not only inherited her mom's physical beauty, but she radiated the same energetic charm that made Polly so irresistible to men and women alike.

As a father, P.I. had watched with dismay as boys grew enamored with his daughters. Wherever they went, boys were smitten by their charm and looks. When the girls came out to the airfield to see him, the other pilots would virtually mob them, jostling each other as they made offers to take them flying. That was until P.I. laid down the law with his aviator brethren. After that, they were models of politeness. Then he told Connie that there was only one pilot he trusted her with and would allow to take her into the air. Nath and the rest of the family thought that was a remarkably enlightened approach to this, the eternal struggle of fathering pretty daughters. Perhaps not so much enlightened as cunning. P.I. knew the pilot was gay.

He filled his plate, and everyone began to eat. P.I. and Polly made this aspect of the morning ritual an inviolable rule: The family always ate breakfast together before going their separate ways for the day. This meant they got up at 0430 almost every morning, though often the kids would be able to go back to sleep for a little while before heading off to school.

At the table, they would talk through the logistics of getting the kids to school, what work P.I. had to do and where he would be, Polly's plans, or any of the other ordinary daily details that keep a family humming smoothly.

At night, dinner together was the other inviolable family rule. Where the breakfast conversation was all business and logistics, the banter at night ranged from politics to silliness, games and laughter. Special moments were shared, and individual victories celebrated. Back in the '30s, when P.I.'s Navy pay finally broke the two-hundred-dollar-a-month mark, he brought the check home and passed it around at the dinner table. Each child held it and looked at the seemingly astronomical numbers with near reverence until finally it came around to Polly. She grew emotional as she held it, thinking of all the years they had scraped by on enlisted pay and her husband's odd jobs.

"Oh, P.I.," she had said in a soft voice, "I am so proud of you."

Those were the moments remembered always, and the dinner table provided many of those. The breakfast table, not so much.

On this Sunday, P.I. had business to attend. He told the boys and Polly he would be heading over to the airfield but would be home for dinner. Polly planned to take the kids to Mass that morning, a Sunday staple that P.I. avoided. Though they met at a church picnic, P.I. was not a religious man. It was the biggest single difference between husband and wife, one that could have torn other couples apart. Instead, they accommodated each other. P.I. agreed to let Polly raise the children Catholic. Polly agreed to never ask P.I. to convert. Matter settled. It never became an issue between them.

Church and flying. The dual Sunday experience of the Gunn family. P.I. usually worked seven days a week. Always had, and he figured he always would.

In later years, the family would try to recall where P.I. went and what he did that fateful Sunday. Julie thought he'd gone fishing off Alabat Island, a spot about fifty miles east of Manila in Lamon Bay. Polly recalled he had gone with an American businessman to his mining operation on an island off the coast of Luzon. Whatever P.I. said his plans were at the breakfast table has been lost to history. But they most certainly did not involve fishing.

P.I. was usually unfailingly honest with his family—sometimes to a fault. But when it came to the risks of his job, or matters of national security, he put a wall up. That day was a double whammy: He knew he would be facing danger for the sake of national security, so he had crafted a cover story. He didn't like doing that, but in his Navy life he tried to shield Polly from the daily hazards he faced as a pioneering aviator. He made jokes of those dangers and recounted stories of flying mishaps in such a way that he made cocktail crowds howl with laughter. Dig a little deeper, though, and those stories masked a dark reality: Too many of his fellow naval aviators had been killed flying fragile, fabric-covered biplanes.

As a loyal American and veteran, P.I. took both national security and secrecy very seriously. To him, that was the one thing that could trump family, for the safety of his country ensured that his family could thrive. Little did he know that morning that his loyalty to his country and the loyalty to his family would be tested to the breaking point in the weeks ahead, forcing him to make the most difficult decision of his life.

He finished up, tossed his napkin down and swept Polly up in his arms. A lingering kiss, two hugs with the boys, and he was out the door. Today's mission could wait no longer.


The Mysterious Traveler

Paul Irvin Gunn slid behind the wheel of the family sedan, a stately four door Buick Roadmaster parked in the driveway. It was verdi green, with a luggage rack bolted on the trunk lid. He'd bought it new in 1939 right off a dealer's lot in Manila, and it had been the family's first factory-fresh ride. It was P.I.'s, too. His very first car had predated World War I, cobbled together from two salvaged wrecks he'd found in his childhood hometown of Quitman, Arkansas. He'd tinkered with it until his jalopy had been the fastest rig in the county, perfect for the moonlit rides he undertook when the Arkansas police were after him and his circle of less-than-respectable associates.

He was seventeen, a criminal of necessity and willing to do anything to keep his mother from bankruptcy. That was a lifetime ago, a layer that he had buried and redeemed with his military service. He even went by a different name back then. The kids in town dubbed him "Bill," because he wore the same long-billed cap for years. It was the only one he'd owned as a child. He became P.I. in the Navy after some enlisted guys tried to call him by his initials—P.I.G. He settled that quickly enough with his fists, and the enlisted bullies never called him Pig again. After that, people just called him P.I.

The 5.2-liter Fireball Straight-8 rumbled to life, sounding smooth and powerful once it warmed up. The engine reflected its owner's care. P.I. maintained it with the sort of joy only a born mechanic could find under the hood.

He threw the Buick in gear as Paul unlatched the front gate. Dingo hovered protectively nearby while Nath waved good-bye. P.I. guided the Roadmaster out onto the street.

The neighborhood still slept, and P.I's car was the only one in sight. For two years, these Sunday morning rides had always been this way, even when the houses around the Gunns' had been filled with the families of officers assigned to nearby Nichols Field and Fort McKinley. This was the tropics; few people went to work on a Sunday, let alone this early.

Now most of the houses stood empty. P.I. passed a long row of them, the Roadmaster still in first gear. Six months before, the military had ordered dependents home as relations between Japan and the United States had deteriorated. Nath and Paul had once never lacked for playmates. Now, they were about the only kids their age left in the neighborhood.

P.I. regarded the passing houses, each one walled off and gated like his, and wished his own family had returned to Pensacola. They would have been safe there until this latest crisis blew over. Polly always refused to go, and the kids unanimously supported her. P.I. kept trying to change their minds, but Polly stood her ground at the many dinner table discussions. Where P.I. was, the family would be, and they would not budge. He gave up after realizing he could not win this battle.

The kids and Polly hadn't gone home, and through the fall the signs of the crisis flared around them. Manila conducted nocturnal blackout drills, testing to make sure the citizens knew how to keep any stray shaft of light from escaping their houses that could help guide Japanese bombers to the capital city.

In church on Sundays, at dinner parties and gatherings, the Americans in Manila fretted over every international development. Most pinned their faith on Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his army of American and Filipino troops. Still, for some of the six thousand Americans living in the islands in 1941, it felt as if their homes rested at the end of a very long limb. P.I. knew enough about the military in the Philippines to know faith in the local armed forces was probably misplaced. The limb was narrow, and the only hope should the Japanese attack would be a swift response by the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet.

The Roadmaster reached Highway 54. Across from it stretched Nichols Field, the U.S. Army Air Force's main base for the defense of Manila. Rows of brand new Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters—single-engine, sharp-nosed, and spindly-legged—sat parked on the ramp next to the main runway.

He had flown everything from lumbering parasol-winged flying boats to gnat-like biplane fighters during his Navy career, but he'd never been in the cockpit of something as advanced as these P-40s. Back when he earned his wings in 1926 after eight years as an enlisted mechanic, the Navy sent him to one of the first torpedo squadrons in the fleet. There, he helped develop anti-ship-attack tactics in underpowered fabric-covered planes called Martin T3Ms. Those Warhawks on the flight line could reach 350 miles an hour. P.I.'s first combat ride could do 110—without the torpedo. With one of those massive weapons slung under the fuselage, the T3Ms could barely stay above stall speed. It made for hairy takeoffs on the old USS Langley, the Navy's first carrier, which had been converted from a collier. With its postage stamp–sized flight deck so narrow the T3M's wingspan nearly matched its width, and its lack of catapults and safety systems, flying from the Langley claimed a lot of P.I.'s friends through horrific accidents. Those were the gestational years of carrier operations. Much was learned and refined for the future carriers then on the drawing boards, but those lessons were hard-won with the blood and bones of P.I.'s comrades.

It astonished him how far aviation had come in only a decade and a half. The technology in those P-40s could hardly have been dreamed of in 1930. With retractable landing gear, all-metal construction, an enclosed cockpit, and speeds never seen before in the fleet aircraft he had flown, those Warhawks represented the pinnacle of American aviation development.


  • "This is a beautifully told story of a family separated by war, and of an extraordinary father, driven to avenge his family, who by sheer force of character changed the nature of warfare. A superbly told tale of love, honor, courage and devotion."
    Alex Kershaw, author of Avenue of Spies
  • "This thriller-like narrative not only reveals the disturbing plight of courageous American families held in Japanese internment camps, but also delivers a gripping portrait of a uniquely American hero, Pappy Gunn, who fought two wars--one for his country and one to rescue his wife and children."
    James Bradley, bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, The Imperial Cruise, and The China Mirage
  • "Paul Irvin Gunn's time in World War II is the stuff of legends - and its fast-paced, page-turning telling in Bruning's book does the man's Herculean feats justice.... The book reads more like an overly-detailed movie script than a work of historical non-fiction, complete with a heart-wrenching love story and heroic conclusion....Indestructible offers a glimpse of the Pacific theater like you've never before seen."
    Men's Journal
  • "Here is a true story with something for everyone. Love, war, treachery, adventure, and above all an intimate portrait of the made-for-Hollywood life of a man who broke all the rules and remade them to his liking. Finally, we have a book that does justice to the legend of Colonel Paul 'Pappy' Gunn, a giant among heroes of World War II. John Bruning shows us a big-hearted man determined to save his family--and a brilliant scientist-pilot who was determined to win the war along the way."
    Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call and Devotion
  • "From the opening pages, Bruning grabs you by the collar and pulls you into the story, not letting go as he masterfully guides you through a part of World War II that is largely unknown. This is the work of a skilled wordsmith who knows how to tell a story."
    Gregory A. Freeman, author of The Forgotten 500
  • "Set against the sprawling and violent Pacific War, Indestructible is the incredible story of one man's courage, tenacity and dogged fight to rescue his family caught behind enemy lines. The book left me with chills."
    James M. Scott, author of Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor
  • "Bruning's gripping account of 'Pappy' Gunn's mission to save his family might seem to some like over-the-top fiction, but Gunn's rage really did drive changes to tactics and modifications to aircraft that changed the course of the Pacific War... every lover of bigger-than-life-but-still-true tales of wartime heroism will want to read this vividly written history."
    Booklist, starred review
  • "This is a compelling story with strong characters and a wealth of fascinating incidents, set against some of the fiercest action of the war."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "[A] story of honor, faith, endurance and love. Indestructible is a worthwhile read for anyone interested not only in the history of the war in the Pacific but also of determination in the face of daunting odds."—Yakima Herald
  • "Fast-paced, sweeping, and often haunting."—The Oregonian
  • "It's a massive understatement to say that Pappy Gunn was an American original. In this new book, journalist Bruning looks at the improbable life of the one-of-a-kind Arkansas daredevil pilot who took matters into his own hands when his wife and children were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines."
    Men's Journal, Best Books of 2016
  • "In INDESTRUCTIBLE, Bruning does a fine job of recounting two parallel storylines, alternating between Gunn's unconventional brilliance in cobbling together aircraft for the defense of Australia and the campaign in New Guinea, and his family's battle against starvation, the Japanese, and-not least-their fellow internees in the notorious Santo Tomas camp."
    WWII Magazine

On Sale
May 2, 2017
Page Count
560 pages
Hachette Books

John R Bruning

About the Author

John R. Bruning is the author or collaborating writer of the national bestseller Indestructible, as well as Outlaw Platoon written with Sean Parnell, Shadow of the Sword with Jeremiah Workman, How to Break a Terrorist with Matthew Alexander, House to House with David Bellavia, The Devil's Sandbox, and Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent with Fred Burton. 

Bruning is well traveled as an embedded combat correspondent. For his reporting in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense presented him with the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2010. For his work with the Oregon National Guard, he was inducted into the 162nd Infantry Regiment in September 2011 as an honorary member. John lives in Independence, Oregon, and has two children.

Learn more about this author