John Calvin Munn (1906–1986)
Lieutenant General John Calvin “Toby” Munn was a commander in the Pacific Theater of World War II and a pioneer among U.S. Marine aviators who perfected the use of aircraft carriers for combat operations. After the war, he was responsible for securing the major Japanese Yokosuka Naval Base, which became the largest U.S. naval base in the Far East. During his career, he continued to guide the improvement of U.S. Marine air capabilities, and he rose to the top echelon of marine leadership as the assistant commandant of the United States Marine Corps.
John Calvin Munn was born in Prescott (Nevada County) on October 17, 1906, to a recently widowed schoolteacher named Cora Hitt Munn. At the age of five, Munn was the mascot of the first football team at Prescott High School (1911). At the age of seven, he began peddling the Saturday Evening Post. At fourteen, he started mowing lawns in Prescott, including that of a judge, whom he persuaded to introduce him to his law partner, Tilman Parks, the congressman from Munn’s district, so that Munn could obtain an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. After Munn graduated from Prescott High School in 1923, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy at the age of sixteen. While at the Naval Academy, he played the role of Sir Toby Belch in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the nickname of “Toby” stuck. Munn was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1927. His early duty assignments included service with the Second Marine Brigade in Nicaragua as well as service with a marine detachment at ex-President Herbert Hoover’s summer camp in Virginia. He then entered flight training at Hampton Roads, completed his training at Pensacola, and was designated as a U.S. Marine aviator in January 1931.
In October 1931, Munn began a period of sea duty when he boarded the USS Saratoga as a pilot in one of the first two marine squadrons to serve on a navy aircraft carrier. This was followed by service as an aviator aboard the USS Langley and the USS Lexington, along with shore duty as an aviation officer at Quantico, Virginia. In May 1938, Munn began a three-year assignment as naval attaché and naval attaché for air at the American embassies in Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru.
Major Munn was ordered to San Diego, California, with Marine Air Squadron 151 in December 1941, when the United States entered World War II. In August 1942, upon his promotion to lieutenant colonel, he departed for the Pacific Theater, and on September 3, 1942, he arrived on Guadalcanal in the first transport plane to land there. In March 1943, he assumed command of the Marine Aircraft Group in the New Hebrides Islands. Later that year, he returned to Washington DC and served on the staff of the commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet. He was promoted to colonel in November 1943. In March 1945, Colonel Munn returned to the Pacific Theater to take command of Marine Air Group 31, which destroyed 180 Japanese planes in the Okinawa Campaign.
After the war’s end, Munn moved his group to Japan as a part of the Occupation Forces and secured the large Japanese Yokosuka Naval Base. He reported to Pearl Harbor in June 1946 and served on the staff of the commander-in-chief of the Pacific fleet as fleet marine officer. Following an assignment as the commander at the Cherry Point, North Carolina, Marine Air Station, he entered the National War College at Washington DC, which is considered a prerequisite for promotion to the rank of general, in August 1950. Following his graduation in 1951, he served at Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) in Washington DC.
In 1953, Munn served in Korea as chief of staff of the First Marine Aircraft Wing, and, in 1954, he assumed command of the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, California. He was promoted to brigadier general in August 1954. Following staff assignments in Norfolk, Virginia, and Washington DC, he returned to Cherry Point to command the Second Marine Aircraft Wing and was promoted to major general in August 1956. In February 1958, Munn became director of aviation at Headquarters Marine Corps. On January 1, 1960, he assumed the post of assistant commandant of the Marine Corps with the rank of lieutenant general and served in this capacity until March 1963. In his final assignment, he became the first aviator to command Camp Pendleton, California, and the aircraft facility at Camp Pendleton was later named Munn Field. During his thirty-seven years of service as a marine officer, Munn was awarded a number of medals, including the Silver Star Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and two Legions of Merit Medals.
After his retirement from the Marine Corps on June 30, 1964, Munn served as the president of the Oceanside, California, National Bank. He died on April 14, 1986, in Encinitas, California. He is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.
For additional information:
Shapiro, Isaac. Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan. Bloomington, IN: 2009.
John H. Hesterly
Last Updated: 02/15/2022