photo: family archives
hundred kilometers. Immediately after
the landing he started to build a runway
with his construction crew on a sandy perimeter. The heavy equipment has
not arrived yet, but Pappy discovered an
old bulldozer behind the Japanese lines.
At the beginning it would not start but
Pappy talked it into that and so the construction crew could start leveling the
surface and reinforce it with piled up
corral. Gunn’s group also repaired several shelters located nearby and started to
build a control tower.
In the anticipation of Japanese bombing,
they also dug a lot of trenches in the airfield vicinity. Strafing and bombing materialized soon, in addition the peninsula was only 300 meters wide and there
was not enough space. Chaos occurred,
disembarked material was nowhere to
be placed. This was followed by a heroic
effort to build the wider beachhead and
put the Tacloban base to the operation in
which no other was put in charge than
Pappy who managed to organize the help
of several hundred Filipinos. Skills of his
men came handy in the situation when it
turned out that in even after three years
of combat the bomb hangers on the Army
and Navy bombers were not unified and
therefore the bombs from the USAAF
supplies could not be used on the Navy
aircraft that landed. Pappy however promptly proposed the modifications of the
hangers, his men rushed to work on the
aircraft with welding machines and sheet metal cutters and soon enough several aircraft were ready for action. In six
and half days Tacloban was operational
but nevertheless, it was a dangerous
place which was constantly bombed and
strafed by the Japanese. On October 30,
during the bombing raid, Pappy was driving his Jeep in the open area and became a target of one of the attackers.
He tried to take cover behind the car but
it was not sufficient. The phosphorus
Pappy, Polly, and Dutch. Three nicknames, three exceptional people.
photo: family archives
Family together again.
bomb explosion threw Pappy away and a
fragment penetrated his left hand. He got
up, made a couple of steps in great pain
and then, moaning, fell and passed out.
On the following day he was airlifted to
Brisbane, where the best Army hospital
On January 9, 1945, four divisions of MacArthur‘s Sixth Army landed in Lingayen Bay on the main Philippines island
of Luzon to launch the final campaign of
liberating the island including Manila, 150
km away. The units kept advancing despite the fierce resistance until January 31
when the headquarters received the message that Japanese let 3700 prisoners,
held in Manila’s University of Santo Tomas campus, to starve in addition to several hundreds of POWs held in the old
Bilibid jail. Considering their poor physical condition after three years of surviving on minimal food rations it was not
clear how much longer they can carry on.
Therefore, MacArthur dispatched the 1st
Motorized Cavalry Division to march on
Manila as soon as possible and liberate
the prisoners. Under the command of General Major Vern Mudge the division, after
several isolated battles, broke through to
Manila where it swiftly attacked University of Santo Tomas area and rescued all
prisoners. Among them Polly Gunn with
her four children. Col. Hutchinson sought
them out as he had promised Pappy befo-
re his dispatch to Australia that he would
take care of them. He told Polly about
Pappy’s wounds and that their transport
to Brisbane was being arranged so they
could re-unite. It was the first information Polly received that her husband was
directly involved in the fighting. She was
in rather poor condition; her weight was
38 kilos instead of usual 51. On February 19 she was flown with her children to
Brisbane where the whole family reunited after more than three years.
The war wounds
Pappy’s wounds were more serious that
it could have seemed. The whole hand
nervous system was damaged. The joints
were swollen and fingers insensitive.
Therefore, in the middle of April he was
transferred to the USA to undertake neurosurgery at the military clinic in Auburn.
This partially helped but Pappy continued
to suffer from severe pain and had to carry his half-disabled hand in the support.
However, the inactivity was even worse
for him so in September 1945 he returned
to Manila and initiated the resurrection
for the Philippine Air Lines.
At that time, he was already discharged
to reserve and could fully return to his
Together with Dan Stickle, with whom he
had started at the airline, they acquired
a couple of surplus Army airplanes which
they rebuilt for civilian use. In December
the ceremonial re-opening of the opera-