John Robert Chappell was born in Louisiana, Missouri, On August 28, 1923, son of Robert Leicester and Garnet L. (Behringer) Chappell. He attended Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, for a year, prior to entering the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, on appointment from his native state in 1941. Graduated with the Class of 1945, on June 7, 1944 (course of instruction reduced to three years due to World War II), and commissioned Ensign, he subsequently advanced in rank to that captain, to date from July 1, 1965.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1944, he reported on board the USS Chester and in November 1945 was detached for flight training at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida. Designated Naval Aviator on May 7, 1947, he joined Patrol Squadron Forty-Nine in October of that year, and in June 1950 became an Instructor at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas. He remained there until May 1952 and after instruction at the Aviation Electronics School, Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee, he was assigned in February 1953 as Communication Officer at the Naval Air Station, Agana, Guam, Marianas Islands. During the period September 1954 to October 1955, he was attached to Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight, which was deployed to Iwakuni, Japan.
He served in the Officer of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legislative and Public Affairs), Washington, DC, until August 1957, then had post-graduate instruction in intelligence, prior to reporting in August 1948, as Assistant US Naval Attaché and Assistant US Naval Attaché for Air, New Delhi, India. Ordered to the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia, he had instruction there from August 1960 until January 1961, when he joined Patrol Squadron Thirty. In June 1961 he transferred to Patrol Squadron Forty-Five and in March 1963 assumed command of that squadron. He reported for duty in the strategic Plans Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in February 1964, and in June 1965 became Executive Assistant and Senior Aide to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy). In May 1966 he joined the Staff of Commander Fleet Air Wing Two as Chief Staff Officer and in April 1968 was ordered to duty as Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station, Olathe, Kansas.
Captain Chappell has the American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with silver star (five operations); World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star; the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Navy Expeditionary Medal and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.