Carl E. Mundy Jr., Marine Corps commandant, dies at 78


Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995, died April 2 at age 78. He was known for controversial comments on women and racial issues in the military. (USMC)
April 5

Carl E. Mundy Jr., a retired four-star general who, as commandant of the Marine Corps in the early 1990s, oversaw troop reductions in the wake of the Cold War and whose statements on race, women and gays in the military provoked widespread criticism, died April 2 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 78.

His son-in-law, Robert Gunter, confirmed his death to the Marine Corps Times. The cause was Merkel cell carcinoma, a form of cancer.

Gen. Mundy was commanding general of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Marine Force in Norfolk when he was named commandant, or the top officer in the Corps, in 1991. He was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With communism collapsing in Eastern Europe at the time, all branches of the military were asked to cut their troop numbers. Gen. Mundy reduced the Marines’ forces to 170,000 from 194,000, resisting efforts by Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin L. Powell to have an even smaller Corps.

When he was named commandant, Gen. Mundy was described in the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most articulate, intelligent and polished Marines in the corps.” But he soon found himself in hot water for his comments about women, race and homosexuality in the military.

In his first speaking engagement as commandant, Gen. Mundy told an association of female military officers that he opposed putting women in direct combat, calling it “a very dirty, distasteful and physical business,” he said.

Afterward, in an interview with The Washington Post, he expanded on the theme of women in combat.

“Do we want to have women, who are after all the mothers of civilization, do that?” he said. “I don’t.”

Some female officers attending the speech said they gave Gen. Mundy credit for honesty but found his views insulting.

In August 1993, Gen. Mundy signed an order that prohibited married recruits from joining the Marine Corps, beginning in 1995. At the time, as many as 40 percent of recently enlisted Marines were married. Gen. Mundy also called for an “awareness program on the advantages of delaying marriage.”

President Bill Clinton, according to White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, “was astounded when he heard about the general’s order.”

The policy was quickly reversed by Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

Although Gen. Mundy had his defenders among veterans, his decision underscored what many saw as a clash of values, with the general seen as an aging leatherneck out of touch with changing times.

“Do we need to get this man leave until he regains his senses?” asked Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Two months later, in October 1993, the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a segment about the Marine Corps’s difficulty in promoting and retaining black officers.

“There is not racism in the Marine Corps,” Gen. Mundy said, attributing the low number of minority officers to “performance.”

“In the military skills, we find that the minority officers do not shoot as well as the non-minorities,” he said. “I can’t explain that to you, but we’re going to find out. They don’t swim as well. And when you give them a compass and send them across the terrain at night in a land navigation exercise, they don’t do as well at that sort of thing.”

His remarks were criticized by civil rights leaders and others as insensitive, and Gen. Mundy apologized.

“We don’t need to have slaps in the face that keep us from moving forward,” an African American Army general told the Milwaukee Journal. “I just don’t know how he can go before a large Marine audience and say he’s committed to equal opportunity and affirmative action in the Marine Corps.”

In 1999, four years after Gen. Mundy’s retirement, “60 Minutes” ran a new segment highlighting how the Marine Corps had instituted programs to identify and promote minorities in its officer ranks.

Carl Epting Mundy Jr. was born July 16, 1935, in Atlanta. His family moved often throughout the South, where his father worked for a dime-store chain.

Gen. Mundy became a Marine officer after graduating from Auburn University in Alabama in 1957. He served in combat in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

“In those periods of engagement, when he’s shooting at you and you’re shooting at him,” he told The Post in 1999, “it is the most exhilarating moment of your life.”

His other decorations included the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit. After his military retirement, Gen. Mundy was president and chief executive of the USO, the military entertainment and morale organization, and was chairman of the Marine Corps University Foundation.

His wife of 56 years, Linda Sloan Mundy, died last year. Survivors include three children, Elizabeth Gunter of Fredericksburg, Va.; Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Carl E. Mundy III of Camp Pendleton, Calif.; and Marine Corps Col. Timothy S. Mundy of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

Throughout his career, Gen. Mundy disapproved of what he called “open homosexuality” in the military. In 2010, he sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate opposing repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, in which gay members of the military faced dismissal if their sexuality became known. The policy was ended in 2011.

Asked by The Post in 1999 if he had any regrets about his career, Gen. Mundy said, “Never, ever go on ‘60 Minutes.’ ”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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