WORTHINGTON — To say that Veterans Day is a family affair for Lyle “Mike” Munns would be a gross understatement.
Mike, who grew up in Adrian and is a longtime Worthington resident, served in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and was stationed in Japan. That’s only a small component, however, of his family’s cumulative military service.
Mike’s father, Ralph J. Munns, served in the Navy’s Seabees during World War II and actually entered the armed forces at the advanced age of 52. And he wasn’t alone among the Munns males. Mike’s oldest brother, Ralph, went into the Navy in 1936, and another brother, Bill, followed in 1939.
“The reason they went in was because back in the ‘30s, there were no jobs available,” Mike said.
A third brother, Harvey, enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and his dad and another brother, Jack, each joined in October 1942. Brothers Bob (June 1943), Lowell (December 1950) and Ronald (July 1952) also joined the Navy before Mike’s enlistment on April 1, 1953.
“I’d tried to enlist when I was 17 and didn’t pass the physical,” Mike recalled. “Then, I was called in for the draft at 18 and was 4F.”
By that time, Mike and his girlfriend, Vonnie Lorang, had been together for around four years, as they started dating while they were freshmen in high school. They were later married on Oct. 30, 1949.
“We were married three years and all of a sudden I got a letter from the draft board saying that I’d been drafted,” Mike said. “The secretary of the draft, why, she told me she could get me in the Navy and she (did) ... because my dad and seven brothers were all in.”
Mike was happy to follow the many other men of his family who served in the U.S. Navy. He said his family spent a total of 65 years of service in that armed forces branch.
From California to Japan
After his enlistment, Mike reported to San Diego, Calif. for boot camp, and next went on to interior communication school in San Diego.
“After you get out of school, you’ve got to choose what ship you’re going to go on,” Mike explained. “I chose an aircraft carrier and the chief said, ‘You don’t want aircraft carrier, you’re a married man.’ He said, ‘Go on that (USS) Hamul over there — that will probably never leave the port in Long Beach.
“I went on the Hamul … and the day after I went on, we were off to Japan.”
Despite the unexpected trip overseas, Mike declared his time of service to be “very good duty” and also had the chance to do some touring.
“The Hamul was a destroyer repair ship,” Mike said. “You would have as many as 10 destroyers tied up to us for repair. We had 32 different shops aboard our ship — we could do just about anything that had to be done. We would pull into a port in japan, and the destroyers would come in and tie up to us and we would do all their repair work.”
Mike was on the Hamul with about 600 Navy personnel, he said. He spent eight or nine months in Japan and came back for six months before returning for another eight or nine months.
Mike was able to enjoy a visit to China (“that was mostly r-and-r,” he remembered) and also traveled to multiple locales around Japan — among them Yokosuka, Kobe, Nagoya and one much more famous locale.
“I visited Nagasaki — I think we were probably in Sasebo then,” he said. “On our liberty, some of us took the train to Nagaski … we wanted to see what it looked like, but there was nothing to see. It was absolutely flat. There was one brick building … it was a church, and that was all that was left.”
Other memorable journeys were made to Hong Kong and Kowloon, which were under British rule at the time.
“In fact, when we were in Kowloon, they celebrated the queen’s birthday with a big military parade,” he said.
With a year and a half remaining in the Navy, Mike said, he got the opportunity to put in for shore duty. He would get it in Long Beach, “in the mothball fleet,” for his final 18 months.
Wife Vonnie had remained in Long Beach during Mike’s military service. When Mike left the Navy, the two came back to southwest Minnesota and resettled in Worthington.
“I'd been working at the Farmers Elevator before I went in, and that job was still there when I got out,” Mike said. “I was 29 when I got out, and I tried to get a job at a couple other places over in Rochester, but they said, ''Why should we hire you at 29 when we can hire someone at 18?’ So, I went back to the elevator.”
Meanwhile, Mike and Vonnie adopted and raised two daughters — Carol is now a teacher in Rapid City, S.D. and Paula a scientist with Pfizer in Kalamazoo, Mich. The couple now has five grandchildren.
Vonnie worked at a Worthington bank and later in the county assessor’s office, while Mike continued at the elevator until his retirement on April 1, 1990. The two became residents of Ecumen Meadows in April 2018.
Mike looks back fondly of the military career of his family and added that one brother’s wife, and their daughter, served in the U.S. Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Several other nephews enlisted in the Navy as well, and two brothers also served on the USS Marblehead, an Omaha-class light cruiser known for its voyage of more than 21,500 miles in search of complete repairs.
Once upon a time, Veterans Day was a day for pheasant hunting with the elevator gang, Mike said. This year, he’ll attend a Monday program at Ecumen Meadows — just three days after his 92nd birthday. He will also spend it, of course, with Vonnie, to whom he has now been married for 70 years.
“I can’t say enough about her, and that’s the truth,” Mike said. “She does everything for me.”