Semper Fidelis: Gen. Mundy led by example
Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., the 30th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, passed away April 3, leaving behind a remarkable military legacy.
While he rose to the highest of Marine ranks and received numerous medals and honors throughout his career, he was just known as Carl to many of his lifelong friends in Haywood County.
The fact that Gen. Mundy and his wife, Linda, who was originally from Waynesville, kept in touch with many of their childhood friends speaks volumes about his character — they describe him as loyal, grounded and compassionate.
Nink Swift, Jeff Reece, Sally Ratcliffe, Dewey Gaddis and Laura Soltis, all of Waynesville, knew Linda and Carl since they were just small children playing red rover in town while their parents worked along Main Street.
“Whether we were playing cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers, Carl always had to be the good guy,” Ratcliffe joked. “He would be the U.S. marshal or the sheriff and we were always the bad guys getting arrested.”
Not only did he want to be the good guy — he wanted to be a Marine. As a child, he and his father, Carl Mundy Sr., built a small boat to use at Lake Junaluska. Ratcliffe said Mundy Jr. had to paint it Marine colors and he loved that boat even though it leaked every summer. He also had an old Marine pin that he wore and even painted his bike in bright yellow and red.
The Mundy family moved to Waynesville when Mundy Jr. was a child after his father was hired to manage a five-and-dime store in town. They lived on Central Avenue in town before moving to the “Heart’s Desire Cottage” at the lake.
Even though the family relocated to Alabama before Mundy Jr. could graduate from Waynesville Township High School in 1953 with Linda and the rest of his friends, he always considered Haywood County as home.
Growing up in Haywood, Mundy delivered The Mountaineer newspapers as a child, was a lifeguard and worked at the soda shop at the lake, was on the high-school swimming team and played trombone in the school band.
“This was home to him,” Ratcliffe said. “When a group of us went to the movies, we took up two rows. We stayed friends all these years though everyone has moved on.”
Through thick and thin
The group of friends has managed to be there for each other for all the big life events whether they were joyous or heartbreaking — and there have been plenty of both.
Many of them were together when Mundy received his first star at Camp Lejeune; they were in each other’s weddings; attended family funerals and they all sat together at Pasquale’s in Waynesville just a year ago to catch up.
Swift remembers when her Marine husband, Jim Swift, got sick. Mundy came to visit him in Autumn Care one day before returning to Washington. Jim died the next day and Mundy didn't hesitate to turn right around and come back to Waynesville.
He told Swift not to worry about a thing because he would take care of the military funeral arrangements. Mundy was even the one who handed Swift the folded U.S. flag at the burial.
Mundy also was the one to commission Ratcliffe’s son, Curt Furtado III, into the Marines in May 1982. They all stayed at a hotel in Charleston for the commissioning event at The Citadel but when they woke up early the next morning for the ceremony, a pipe had busted and the water was off. Ratcliffe said that didn’t stop Mundy from being ready for the ceremony.
“He went down to the pool and took water from the pool so he could shave before The Citadel graduation,” she recalled.
When Ratcliffe fell a year ago and was in a nursing home recovering, she said Mundy called to check on her to see if she needed anything. Of course she didn’t think anything of it because that was just what he did.
“He was one of the nicest and straightforward gentlemen I have ever known,” Gaddis said. “He was a true friend, and those are few and far between.”
It was a beautiful summer day last June when Mundy was on his way home after he received a diagnosis from his doctor — Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. But Linda, his wife, would never know of his cancer. She passed away while sitting in her rocking chair on the front porch that same day.
“No matter what went wrong, he made the best of it,” Swift said.
Soltis said the whole group got a call from Mundy when Linda’s tombstone arrived. He was in the midst of radiation at the time and had undergone several surgeries, but still he found the strength to come to Waynesville for a visit. He picked up all of his friends and took them up to Green Hill Cemetery to place the marker on her grave.
It read “The First Lady of the Marine Corps.” Mundy brought along a picnic basket with sandwiches and a bottle of wine so they could toast to Linda. Not even a year later, the close-knit group of friends was again saying goodbye to another dear friend. Mundy fought his cancer battle with honor and perseverance, just as he fought every other battle, but he succumbed to the illness at the age of 78.
“We were hoping and praying for more time, but we don’t have that choice,” Soltis said.
When asked if Mundy had any dreams he didn’t see through, Ratcliffe said, “I think it just ended all too soon.”
No one can say Mundy didn’t make the most of his 78 years on Earth. His list of military accomplishments and honors is a long one, but none of his friends back home were the least surprised by his success.
“Yes, I did,” said Gaddis when asked if he ever thought his childhood friend would become commandant of the Marines. “He had it in him — when he made up his mind about something, he did it.”
Mundy attended Auburn University to participate in the school’s Marine program. After graduating from Auburn in 1957, he married Linda, his fourth-grade sweetheart, and started his career as a commissioned second lieutenant in the Marines.
He sought a combat assignment in the Vietnam War and was promoted to captain in 1967 before returning to his specialty — Marine infantry. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines, which was heavily engaged in combat near Khe Sanh. During heavy combat, Mundy was wounded in action by a grenade resulting in grenade fragments in his leg, earning him the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
According to a press release from the Marines, Mundy established command screening boards, implemented new technology such as remotely piloted vehicles, championed the MV-22 Osprey, and dealt with sensitive personnel issues such as the "combat exclusion" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies of the Clinton administration.
While some of Mundy’s lifelong friends say his greatest accomplishment was marrying Linda, Reece and Ratcliffe think Mundy would say becoming the highest ranked officer in the Marines in 1991 was his greatest accomplishment because it was his lifelong dream. He retired from active service in 1995.
Mundy’s service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 19, at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville followed by burial at Green Hill Cemetery. Mundy’s children are expected to be in attendance. Both of Mundy's sons, Brigadier Gen. Carl E. “Sam” Mundy III and Col. Timothy S. Mundy, on active duty in the Marine Corps, and his daughter, Elizabeth Mundy Gunter, a writer and consultant, makes her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
MV-22 Ospreys will be doing a flyover and there will be a ceremonial artillery firing battery about 3 p.m. at the cemetery service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation: (In Memory of Gen. Carl E Mundy, Jr.), 3800 Fettler Park Dr., Suite 104, Dumfries, VA, 22025.
He led us.
He inspired us.
He believed in us.
He motivated us.
He served us.
He sacrificed for us.
He stood up for us.
He set the example for us.
He fought the good fight for us.
He gave us wise counsel.
He was a blessing to us.
He loved his Father in heaven.
He loved his family.
He loved his country.
He loved the Marine Corps.
He made a difference.
His legacy endures.
He is celebrating Easter in heaven with Linda.
He is deeply loved and missed by all that knew him.
Semper Fidelis was more than a motto, it was
a way of life for General Mundy.
God bless the Mundy family today and always.
Major, U.S.M.C. (Ret)