Joan De Munbrun, a Legionnaire with the Charles W. Turner Post 867 at the Chula Vista Veterans Home in California’s District 22, received reassignment from the Eternal Commander-in-Chief to Post Everlasting on Sunday, Nov. 2. She was 101 years old.
Comrade Legionnaires in the 22nd District will long remember De Munbrun for her 67 years of active membership in The American Legion and for her never-failing dedication and commitment on behalf of her fellow veterans. De Munbrun attained the rank of Army Sergeant, high for women in the military services at the time. She recalled that she was among the first group of women accepted into the U.S. Army. “We were tested for nine months,” she noted in a 2013 interview. “We were the test cases.” She requested to go into the field, and she served as a photographer for the Army. Her military comrades called her “Miss Sergeant.” She received an early assignment at the AT6 Flying School, where pride and anguish mingled, as she developed negatives for pictures of World War II pilots completing successful training sessions and missions, as well as photos for family members of pilots who had become casualties. She later spent a year and a half as operational director for aerial cameras.
When De Munbrun joined The American Legion in 1947, World War I veterans were not welcoming women in their posts, so female veterans formed their own distinctive posts. De Munbrun was a member of Post 631, Los Angeles Women, for 25 years. She was often acknowledged for her leadership and recruiting efforts within The American Legion, and she was California Legionnaire of the Year 2002.
The American Legion in organized assembly most recently celebrated De Munbrun for her service on behalf of patriotism at the District 22 general meeting of The American Legion on June 2, 2013, which gathered veteran leaders from throughout San Diego County. De Munbrun was honored as a woman of distinction for efforts in support of the Legion’s mission “For God and Country.” Hosting the meeting was La Mesa Post 282, located at 8118 University Ave. Tomas Luna, Post 282 Commander 2013-2014, summed up the event, “Our post enjoys hosting district meetings. This was the last meeting of the calendar year, and we went out on a good note with a good event.”
After opening ceremonies at that meeting, District 22 Legionnaires serenaded “Miss Sergeant” De Munbrun with a rousing verse of “Happy Birthday,” in acknowledgment of her 100th birthday on Flag Day 2013. Rod Van Orden, District 22 commander 2012-2013, presented her with a slice of cake bearing one candle for her century of dedicated life.
Tony Stewart, District 22 commander 2014-2015, responded to De Munbrun’s transfer to Post Everlasting, “Joan was indeed a blessing to us all. Words cannot express her commitment and steadfast spirit not only to support her service ties with fellow veterans but uplifting others with a desire to share of herself at all times even in these twilight years. It is with great sorrow to hear of this loss we all share, but there is a great sense of warmth to know that heaven just gained a remarkable lady, proud soldier, dedicated legionnaire and great American. She gave us many benchmarks to strive for and laid a lot of groundwork for today and tomorrow.” Commander Stewart concluded, “May she rest at ease knowing that we have the watch and we will treat it with care.”
De Munbrun was one of the first residents in May 2000 at the California Veterans Home in Chula Vista. A suggestion to De Munbrun when the Legion's National Commander visited the veterans home in March 2001 resulted in stand-up of an American Legion post at the facility. De Munbrun canvassed residents, staff and volunteers for the 15 members required to form a post. According to Ralph Huskey, who served as adjutant, past commander and charter member of Charles W. Turner Post 867 and was District 22 commander 2008-2009, “She signed up 23 of us that day.” Commander Huskey continued, describing her many other impressive accomplishments, including starting the "Vets Helping Vets" program at the Chula Vista veterans home, in which Post members would provide assistance to residents of the Skilled Nursing Facility, taking them outside to enjoy the sunshine, to church services, or to the medical clinic. He praised her, saying, “She was our primary recruiter, even recruiting the Inspector General of the California Department of Veterans Affairs during his visit to the home. She was our mentor for Legion programs, our inspiration for activities, and our drill sergeant if she felt we were not moving the Post forward. … She will be missed. May she rest In peace.”
Ann Marie Pina-Brown, past commander of San Diego Post 6 and California Legionnaire of the Year 2008, reflected on the changes during De Munbrun’s lifetime in attitudes toward women in military ranks and veterans service organizations. She cited a maturing appreciation for women’s leadership service, which is attributable in part to the example set by distinguished Legion members like De Munbrun, “Women Legionnaires are taking a more active part in leadership at this time. This is a marked change from when women were placed in clerical and token positions. Women are accepted by peers as veterans and will continue to advance.”
May Joan De Munbrun both rest in peace and continue serving as a beacon of service for fellow Legionnaires.