Joel was born in Napoleon, Ohio, to Ralph “Buck” and Donna Jean Knepley, on June 5th, 1951. He was the middle child, having an older sister, Debbie, and followed by a younger brother, Jeff. His father Ralph was employed by Prudential Insurance, eventually moving his family to Findlay to establish an office there.
Joel would attend and graduate from Findlay High School in 1969. He was assigned a low number in the draft and chose to enlist in the Army. He would train first at Ft. Bragg and then Ft. Polk before being sent to Vietnam. He was an infantryman assigned to “The Big Red One”, the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division.
This brigade had been sent to Vietnam to replace a Marine unit after the TET Offensive. During his year in Vietnam he would spend time in the Quang Tri Province and would be sent on missions into Cambodia. Joel talked little about his time there, other than to say he had been assigned to be a “tunnel rat”, one of the most dangerous tasks a soldier could have. (This would entail a single soldier crawling down into a VC underground tunnel, in the dark, often only armed with a knife, seeking out the enemy.)
Joel returned from Vietnam having been rewarded the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Army Air Medal. He was also a medaled marksman in the army. Joel would complete his two-year obligation at Ft. Lewis in 1971. He earned the rank of E-5.
While never wounded in battle, Joel contracted malaria in Vietnam. He considered that a blessing as it took him out of the field while he recovered. When he returned home, he didn’t reveal what he had experienced but he often-had reoccurring nightmares and flashbacks. He was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and this would eventually take his life at the age of 56, in 1971.
He returned from the war to Findlay for a time, later relocating to Florida. He began to experience serious health issues at the age of 40, affecting his lungs and heart. He would pass away in the VA hospital in Rivera Beach, Florida.
Joel’s father, Ralph, had served in WWII and when he passed, he had been cremated. When Joel died, the Army held a double Military Honors ceremony, burying the father and son veterans, side by side, in the National Cemetery, located in Del-Ray, Florida.