Joseph Laughlin was born on June 26, 1917, in Grand Island, Nebraska. He entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Corps on October 1, 1939, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings on July 27, 1940. Lt Laughlin was assigned Kelly Field, Texas, and then to the 19th Pursuit Squadron of the 18th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, in September 1940. He was at Wheeler when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, and later served as the Commander of the 45th Fighter Squadron before returning to the U.S. in early 1943. Col Laughlin became commander of the 379th Fighter Squadron of the 362nd Fighter Group in May 1943 and deployed with the group to England in November 1943, becoming Group Commander in November 1944. He was credited with destroying 1 enemy aircraft in aerial combat plus 2 probables and sinking 1 German Light Cruiser before returning to the U.S. in September 1945. After the war, Col Laughlin commanded the 362nd Fighter Group at Biggs Field, Texas, and then the 20th Fighter Group at Shaw Field, South Carolina, before attending Air Command & Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from September 1947 to June 1948. He then served in the Air National Guard Division and then as Director of Operations and Training with Headquarters 10th Air Force at Selfridge AFB, Michigan, until July 1951. Col Laughlin attended Air War College at Maxwell AFB from July 1951 to June 1952, and then served at Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Pentagon from June 1952 to July 1955. His next assignment was as Chief of the Air Force Section of the Military Advisory and Assistance Group to the Republic of China on Taiwan from July 1955 to August 1957, and then as Commander of the 506th Tactical Fighter Wing at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, from August 1957 to December 1958. He served as Deputy Commander and then Commander of the 4520th Combat Crew Training Wing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from December 1958 to November 1959, and then as Chief of Staff of 12th Air Force in Waco, Texas, from November 1959 to December 1961. Col Laughlin next served on the staff of the Director of Operations with Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia, from December 1961 to June 1963, followed by service as Deputy Chief of Staff and then Chief of Staff with Headquarters 17th Air Force at Ramstein AB, West Germany, from June 1963 to August 1966. He served as Vice Commander of the 314th Air Division at Osan AB, South Korea, from August 1966 to August 1967, and was Senior Air Force Representative to the U.S. Army Artillery and Missile School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, from August 1967 until his retirement from the Air Force on October 31, 1969. Joe Laughlin died on February 17, 2006, and was buried at Floral Haven Memorial Gardens in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For gallantry in action on 21 April 1944. While he was leading a group of P-47 type aircraft in an attack upon a special military objective, Lt. Col. Laughlin's aircraft was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Despite the damage sustained, Lt. Col. Laughlin, demonstrating outstanding courage and leadership, retained the leadership of the formation and attacked the assigned objective with great effectiveness. The extraordinary valor and tactical proficiency which he exhibited on this occasion were directly responsible for the success of the mission and reflect great credit upon his deep devotion to duty.