Colonel Joe B. Thurston was born 29 May 1936 in Alex, Oklahoma, where he graduated high school in 1954. After he graduated the University of Oklahoma in 1959, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics, he was appointed to second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Artillery.
September 1965 he was ordered to Vietnam where he commanded an armed helicopter unit in the 5th Special Forces Delta Project. He was again ordered to Vietnam in 1967 and served as Aviation Operations Officer, 1st Aviation Brigade, and Army Aviation Officer, Headquarters, II Field Forces. He returned to Vietnam for a third tour in 1971 to command an aviation battery, and serve as Air Cavalry Squadron Operations Officer, 101st Airborne Infantry Division.
He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Associate Officer Advanced Course, and a graduate of the U.S. Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama and Airborne Course, Fort Benning, Georgia. He is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia and the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal with V and three Oak Leaf Clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with V and ten Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal and Purple Heart. He is authorized to wear the Parachutist Badge, Army Aviation Badge and U.S. Air Force Space Badge.