Joseph Alexander Steele was born May 28, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Indiana, Pennsylvania when Joe was six years old. Joe attended Indiana High School where he was very athletic. He played football on his high school team, with his brothers John and Barry, and also catcher for the baseball team. In 1947, while still in school, Joe joined the Pennsylvania National Guard, Company F. In 1951, after the start of the Korean War, that unit was called to active duty, and Joe was discharged.
In January 1952, Joseph re-enlisted in the Army. He was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, with the 340th Military Police Battalion. He was sent to Korea in June and was at the front lines as a rifleman with the 7th Infantry Division. In October 1952, he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the symbol of the Front-Line soldier.
On March 09, 1953, Joe was wounded in Korea near Old Baldy while on patrol with Company A, 31st Infantry Regiment. Sergeant Steele was wounded in the neck and leg by artillery fire in an ambush by North Korean forces.
Joe didn’t like to talk about the day he was wounded, but after time, he described it as follows: “Our squad, myself and two other G.I.’s, were out on patrol on Old Baldy doing our usual maneuvers. After helping take back the wounded, they were carrying a dead boy back when a shell exploded around them. It struck the dead boy with full force, no doubt saving the others. Since the fragment that hit me in the neck was so close, it didn’t have a chance to spin, it just went into the right side and came out the left. If it had been spinning, it would have cut my head off”. Had the fragment in Joe’s neck lodged one-half inch one way or the other, according to the doctor, it would have killed him. He was wearing a bullet proof vest which saved him from other body wounds. Joe was removed by helicopter to a MASH unit 10 miles away, within 45 minutes of his injuries. He required a transfusion of three pints of blood. Once he was stabilized, he was sent to the Tokyo Army Military Hospital in Japan for further treatment. The leg wound was minor, but the neck wound was more serious, resulting in injury to the larynx; he was unable to talk.
While in the Tokyo hospital, Joe was visited by Mrs. Mark W. Clark, wife of the Commander-in-Chief, Far East Command. She sent a letter to Joe’s father in Indiana, Pa.:
Dear Mr. Steele: Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting your son, Joseph, in Tokyo Army Hospital. He asked that I write to you telling you that he is making progress. The courage and character that carried this young man in battle, still remain with him. General Clark and I have a son who was wounded on three separate occasions in Korea, the last time quite badly. However, with the great progress in medical science, he is now recovered and back to duty. We were in the United States at the time and the few people that visited him in the Tokyo Hospital and wrote of seeing him meant a very great deal to us. That is why I try to visit the men here, sending personal word to their families We know how eager you are to have your boy home, and we hope it won’t be too long before he may be returned to the States. We are all in the hands of God, cared for by a loving Providence that is deeply interested in our good. Even though God’s ways are not always the ways of man and we often fail to see how a share of the Cross can be for our own good, we can be certain of God’s infinite love for us. We should then, with love and trust, continue our prayers for Joe and all the other brave men who have faced their duty with a smile in this action against the forces of Communism and tyranny. The General joins me in extending our warm good wishes. Mrs. Mark W. Clark
In April, Joe was transferred from Tokyo to a hospital in San Francisco, CA for a few days. From there he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., where his father was finally able to visit him. When Joe saw his father, he was able to say a few words. His treatment involved the use of a tube in his neck, which he took out to talk, holding his finger over the hole in his neck. As he healed, Joe had a scar over six inches long across his neck. Joe received the Purple Heart for his injuries. He also received the Combat Infantry Badge; awarded only to those who have come under enemy fire.
While in Walter Reed, Joe asked his girlfriend Miss Alda Mae Greer to marry him. On May 28th, 1953, while Joe was home on leave recuperating from his injuries, he and Alda were married.
Joe spent his entire career in the Army. Until his retirement, Joe had many other postings after the Korean War; Germany, Fort Ord, Spokane, Fort Lewis, and many additional short-term postings. In 1962 Joe was abruptly sent to West Berlin during the Cuban Missile crises to defend against potential attack by the Soviet Union. Joe fought twice in Vietnam, once as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army and once in the infantry. He was an expert Marksman and Sharpshooter. He was considered an excellent leader and soldier by those he led.
Joe’s family history is one rich in military service. Named after his father, Joe is the fifth in a line of Joseph Steeles. The first Joseph, born in 1815 in County Derry, Northern Ireland, immigrated to the United States in 1836. He enlisted in the Civil War Union Army where he served the entire war, first as a Captain in the PA Volunteer Calvary, 2nd Regiment, Company M. As a Major, he fought in the Battle at Gettysburg as Adjutant, 2nd Calvary, 59th Regiment. During the war he rose to the rank of Lt. Col, was wounded, captured by the enemy, and held in Andersonville POW camp and the POW Camp Sorghum. He escaped capture and returned to the fight. His son, Joseph Jr also served in the war with distinction, serving with his father rising to the rank of Captain. Joseph Jr was wounded twice and had the reputation of having stiff courage under battle. Joe’s father, Joseph IV, also served in war, having volunteered for active duty to fight in WWII as a U.S. Navy Seabee in New Guinea at the age of 37, leaving behind a family and a successful business in Indiana, PA.
Joe had many passions and pursuits in his life. He enjoyed photography, he liked to paint, and he loved spending time with his children and their families. He had a deep passion for baseball throughout his life, playing while in the Army and into his seventies. While in the Army, Joe was catcher in a game when Army draftee Baseball Hall of Fame Center Fielder Willie Mays came up to bat. To hear it from Joe, Willie hit the first pitch so far it still has not come down. But most of all, Joe liked to talk. And talk he did, especially about his time in the Army.
Joe and Alda were married 66 years before he passed away in May of 2020. They had five children, many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even two great-great grandchildren.
Joe was laid to rest at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, WA, alongside others who have served their country with great honor, courage, and distinction. He is sorely missed. A soldier to the end.
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Korean War - Key Events
March 14, 1951
Seoul changes hands for the fourth time when UN forces once again liberate the South Korean capital. The city has been devastated by fighting, and its population has been reduced to a fraction of its prewar size.
These events are taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica