Joseph Edward Lauer

Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps


Company M 
3rd Battalion
1st Marine Regiment
9th Marine Amphibious Brigade
Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: May 31, 1968
Buried at: 
Gate of Heaven Cemetery
                  Berlin, New Jersey
Awards: Purple Heart


PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JOSEPH EDWARD LAUER was born on December 19, 1948. His home of record is Gibbsboro, NJ. Joseph was the only son of Clarence and Catherine Lauer. Joseph belonged to the Class of 1967, the first graduating class of Eastern Regional High School. Involved in many school activities, Lauer was a member of the Drafting Club, Drama Club, Grid Club and Gymnastics Show. A member of the baseball and football team, Lauer was accepted into the Varsity Club.

After graduating from Eastern, Lauer enlisted in the US Marine Corps and volunteered to go to Vietnam. He attained the rank of Private First Class.

Lauer’s tour of duty in Vietnam began May 8, 1968. Only 23 days after arriving in Vietnam, he was tragically killed in South Vietnam, as a result of mortar fire. He was awarded the Purple Heart.

After Lauer’s death, his legacy still prevails through Eastern Regional High School and his community. In Gibbsboro, a memorial park and a street have been dedicated in Lauer’s memory. In the Gibbsboro American Legion Hall, a showcase memorial pays tribute to Lauer’s life. On May 21, 1998, 30 years after Joseph Lauer’s death, Eastern Regional High School held a memorial assembly for the entire student body to recognize and remember this student that sacrificed his life for his country.

A Father’s Proud Requiem for his Only Son

There was a long round fluorescent light stretched across the top of the garage door and its glow flooded the winding suburban street and lighted the way for the people who moved softly up the stone walk that cut across the terraced lawn of the modest split level home.

There were six small American flags jutting up from the lawn, standing on pencil-thin sticks and flapping in the soft evening breeze, and there was a black wreath on the door frame, just below the black stenciled numerals that told you this was 49 Winding Way in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, USA.

And there was the service flag in the window. The service flag was bordered in red and out of a field of white satin, you were hit by a large gold star. The gold star told you why there was a wreath on the front door and why men in American Legion caps stood out on the lawn and why the people kept coming and going all afternoon and evening and late into the night.

Joey Lauer was dead. Dead at 19. He got it in Vietnam three weeks after he arrived. He was killed on May 31st and it took 12 days to fly his body home and now Joey’s friends were tip-toeing into the white shingled house on Winding Way and kneeling in prayer at the glass-covered casket that was draped by a huge American flag. There was a floral wreath next to the casket. It was made up of red carnations and it was shaped in a big heart with a red satin ribbon with gold letters that read “Joey Forever” and when people saw the wreath, they came apart with grief.

Kids get killed in Vietnam everyday and they fly the bodies home and relatives and friends call to say goodbye. It seems to be part of the American culture now, war and death. Joey Lauer was born in 1948, which means the kid could hardly remember a year that his country was not at war, but when it was Joey’s time to go, he joined the Marine Corps and volunteered to go to Vietnam. And now he was home in a box.

PFC Joseph Lauer of Gibbsboro, New Jersey, was the youngest of the five children of Clarence J. (Joe) Lauer. Joey was old Joe Lauer’s only boy. Old Joe Lauer, who is 50 (in 1968) now, could be bitter about the war, but he is an extraordinary man. He says he is not bitter at all because he says his family knows that their boy did not die in vain.

“Our sorrow has been turned to joy by a feeling of pride that our son gave his life to a cause that he believed in and that guided his every action,” old Joe Lauer wrote.

Joe Lauer is not a writer by trade. He’s in the retail fish business. He operates a fish market in the 2700 block of North Front Street in Philadelphia, but old Joe Lauer is more than a fish market operator. There is a bit of a poet in the man and a bit of the philosopher and a whole lot of old-fashioned American patriotism.

When he got word on June 3rd that his son, Joey, had been killed in action in Vietnam, old Joe Lauer wrote a letter to his customers at the fish market and tacked it up in the window. The letter showcased old Joe Lauer’s great heart and the words he wrote telling of Joey’s death at 19 in far off Vietnam told you that the people that make up America are not sick but are strong and brave people who can find solace in tragedy.

“Life is measured in our minds by time known to us as years,” old Joe Lauer wrote. “It makes no difference whether someone lives, one, five, twenty or sixty years, but how long one spends on earth before he or she realizes why they were born or why they are here. Some people spend a so-called full life-span here and pass on never knowing why they were created.”

“A child only three months old can leave a treasure here on Earth by just giving joy and leaving a beautiful memory in the minds and hearts of their family, even though their life-span was so short in our terms of time.”

The people who buy fish from old Joe Lauer wept when they read the letter. Joe Lauer called it “A Star in the Sky.”

When young Joey’s body arrived last week, old Joe Lauer put another announcement in the window of his fish market. It read: “Our Joey is Home. Viewing Friday evening June 14th. Mass and Burial, Saturday June 15th. Viewing from our home, 49 Winding Way, Gibbsboro, New Jersey.”

Old Joe Lauer was damp-eyed but composed when hundreds of friends called to say goodbye to his boy, Joey. “Maybe I’ll be bitter in six months,” he said, “but right now I have no bitterness. The Vietnam War is our country’s commitment. My country never got as great as it is by backing away.”

He hesitated and then he smiled and he reached into a coat pocket and he pulled out a sheet of rumpled paper. “I’m not a writer,” he said, “but I watched Senator Robert Kennedy’s funeral on TV the other morning. I could understand how they felt.”

“So,” he said, offering the rumpled paper, “when President Johnson walked into the Cathedral and knelt to pray, I sat down and wrote him this letter.”

Old Joe Lauer’s hand-scrawled letter to Lyndon B. Johnson read:

“Dear Mr. President: We are awaiting the arrival of our son, PFC Joseph F. Lauer, USMC, who died in Vietnam on May 31, 1968, and know the anguish that you must feel as the father of our great country.”

“We watched you on TV this morning at the Kennedy funeral and wish to convey our feeling in your time of sorrow. We are aware of the great burden on your shoulders and the cross that you share with all of us as our leader…God bless and guide you, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence J. Lauer”


** Note that some of these messages are from years ago
and their contact information may not be good anymore **

It's hard to believe it has been 40 years since you graduated; 39 since you gave your all... We are still fighting around the world for freedom; now I have a nephew in Iraq... He is the same age your were when you volunteered.
Semper Fi

Tom Foley
first cousin
Kingsville, MD

Another year another war the US is still fighting for freedom around the globe. Others follow in your footsteps I pray they have your determination and conviction. Your sacrifice is remembered. Semper Fi, Joey!

Tom Foley
first cousin
Kingsville, MD
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Well, Joey, it's been 37 years today. I still think of you often. Semper Fi!

Tom Foley
first cousin
Kingsville, MD
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Joey was my first cousin. He volunteered without regrets. He died as his lived committed, honorably, and giving his all. He is remembered fondly and often, and has served as a role model in the many years since his death. Semper Fi!

Tom Foley
Thursday, August 23, 2001

Joseph E. Lauer
is honored on Panel 62W Line 12 of
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.