This project will endeavor to publicize the military career of Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin. For the short term, and for my graduate project, it will focus on his WWII career as an officer and commander in the Army Air Corps. After graduation, I hope to continue this project to explore his post-war career in the United States Air Force.
I will do my best to remain objective, and I have professors who will ensure that I remain so. This project will be combining my three areas of study: Information Science, History, and Management. Using Omeka, I will be able to have an online archive, where I can make these records accessible yet unchangeable. The exhibits will be presented as an online museum, guiding you through his 30 years of service, pointing to his leadership positions in management situations and how he handled them. I hope that in some small way this project will bring to light the long and incredible career of Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin in a way that has not yet been presented.
I will also use this blog to narrate my trials, failures, and successes in my quest to find and present these records. Already, I have found some channels work better than others for archives and repositories, and I have discovered that some of the best material is actually right under my nose. Writing about my experiences, I hope to provide insight to those like me looking to do a similar project, hopefully not under time constraints.
But perhaps the most important thing I should mention is that Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin was my grandfather. As such, I am privy to family possessions and records that others would not have, but that is also why I think this project is so important. He left an indelible mark on everyone he met, and I hope this project can show why that occurred.
I think a project like this was always something I wanted to do after hearing him referred to as a hero and a great leader from the men he flew with. One veteran personally pulled me aside at a reunion to tell me how my grandfather saved his life. Other veterans shared their war stories with my family and I, usually involving my grandpa, and always he would be sitting behind them yelling, “oh, stop making that crap up!”
His stories were almost always never really about him. He would talk about how honored he was to know the men who flew with him, emphasizing the teamwork they would utilize to beat back the enemy and get the job done. He never spoke to me of certain times or places or events, it was always general. When pushed by others, he would give a few more details, but generally I remember he remained humble, nostalgic, and with a hint of sadness.
Of course, these are the memories (mostly) of a child and teenager. How he really spoke of them could have been wildly different, but I wasn’t really listening to Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin. I was listening to Grandpa Laughlin. For the first 16 years of my life, that was all I really saw him as: my stocky, hug-loving, softy grandpa who loved bacon for breakfast and having all of the family around the table at Thanksgiving.
Then, in November 2005, we traveled to Tampa, FL, for the 362nd Fighter Groups’ reunion. It was not something that the family usually went to, but my grandfather had made plans with us all to renew his vows to my grandmother, to her surprise. It was a memorable weekend. Not only did I get to witness my grandparents’ 60th anniversary and vow renewals, I began to view my grandpa as his squadron did, as Colonel Joe.
Unfortunately, I did not know how precious little time I had left with him. That was the last time I saw him in person. Excepting phone calls on Christmas Day and New Years Day, I did not get to speak with him again. More importantly to this project, I didn’t get to ask him about his service in WWII, how it affected him, and how he wanted to be remembered. That is my biggest regret.
On Friday, February 17, 2006, my grandpa was taken from us. It is never easy to lose a beloved family member; it is even harder to lose a hero you were just starting to appreciate. It still hurts to talk about it. Even now, almost 10 years later, I have tears rolling down my cheeks. At the memorial my family found out the truth: he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer just before Tampa and had been given 6 months. He told only my uncle (and my grandma, of course), not wanting to worry the rest of us with the short time he had left. I remember feeling very angry at him for this, almost resentful. I didn’t get the time I wanted with him, and for a few months, I blamed him for that.
Then we found out something incredible: my grandpa had been in talks with the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH because they wanted to do a refurbished P-47D with his emblem. The opening was not until late 2016, so my grandpa knew he wouldn’t be seeing it. I like to think he kept this a secret to lessen the blow of his death, or to allow us time to mourn and celebrate him and he wouldn’t have to be there yelling at us, “oh stop making that crap up!”
As I would continue to learn, that was how Colonel Joe was, and that was why so many of his men respected and followed him. He did not want to add stress and worry to those he cared about; he would get the job done so they wouldn’t have to. That was Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin, my grandpa, my hero.