Joel Laudenslager of Clinton, Pennsylvania has been in the Marine Corps Reserves for ten years, and he is a combat veteran of deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Joel grew up in Malaysia, mostly. He came to the Pittsburgh area during his school years and joined JROTC in high school because it seemed appealing, like “America and apple pie.” But instead of going to college right away, Joel enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves and quickly found himself deployed to Iraq with a unit starved for replacement troops after previously taking heavy casualties. The Marine recruiter never mentioned that part of the plan.
Joel would survive the dangers of Iraq and return to the US only to long for another deployment. That’s where the action is, he thought, he missed “being on the edge.” So, in 2010 Joel volunteered to deploy again—this time to Afghanistan.
“It was a completely different war there,” Joel admits. Very active. The Taliban proved to be formidable adversaries, especially the foreign fighters, snipers, and machine gunners. Of course, Joel’s Marine unit lost some men fighting among the houses, farm fields, and IED-laden roadways, but nothing like the pounding the Army took. “They got really hammered,” Joel admits.
On the first Monday of each month throughout 2015, we conducted oral history interviews at the Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives in the Senator John Heinz History Center. The library is closed to the public on these days, so the staff graciously invited us to meet with local veterans and use this space to record and preserve their stories.
On July 6, 2015, we invited three senior Pittsburgh area veterans to the Heinz History Center to share their stories with the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative. First to be interviewed by historian Todd DePastino was Joel Laudenslager, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we were joined by Harold Huckestein, WWII navy veteran, followed by Gene Torisky, navy veteran of the Cold War era.