Joe Velarde began fencing at the age of thirteen at Seward Park High School and competed in New York City's Public School Athletic League from 1936-39.
He was a sophomore and co-captain of Professor Joseph Smith's Brooklyn College Fencing Team when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Joe enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served from 1942-45 in the European Theatre of Operations, flying 60 bombing missions as a B-25 Armorer-Gunner.
When World War II ended in 1945, Joe joined Maestro Julio (Pop) Martinez Castello's national championship teams at New York University. In 1946-47, co-captained by Velarde, NYU won both the Eastern and National Collegiate Three-Weapon Team Championships.
After completing a Master of Arts Degree in Education at NYU, Joe accepted a seasonal appointment as fencing coach of the U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, (1947-49). His team shared First Place with Rutgers University in the 1949 NCAA Three-Weapon Team Championship.
Velarde then accepted a fulltime faculty appointment and head coaching position at Columbia University in New York City (1949-52). During this period, his teams won the 1951 Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, as well as the 1951 and 1952 NCAA Three Weapon Team Championships. In the summer of 1952, as an Air Force Reserve Officer and Intelligence Language Specialist, he was recalled to active military duty for the duration of the Korean Crisis. Joe became one of the earliest USAF officers to specialize in Special Operations and Counterinsurgency and elected to remain throughout the "Cold War" as a career Regular Officer until his medical disability retirement from active duty in 1971.
In addition to his military duties while stationed in Europe during the years 1956-59, Joe coached a U. S. Armed Forces team in the 1957 Britannia Shield Games in London, placing 3rd in a six-nation round-robin 3-weapon tourney. He also coached the Joint U. S. Armed Forces fencing teams in the
1958 and 1959 NATO-sponsored CISM Games (Conseil Internationale du Sports
Militaire) in Luxembourg and West Germany, placing 4th each time in a twelve-nation round-robin 3-weapon tournament. While assigned to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, (1961-65) as an associate professor of foreign languages and area studies, Velarde also volunteered as Officer-in-Charge of Fencing.
Joe is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a disabled Vietnam veteran. In addition to his 60 World War II combat missions, his "Cold War"
commissioned service includes intelligence, psyops, and special operations assignments in the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Middle East and the jungles of Washington, D.C. For his service as chief of military-civic action programs in Vietnam (1969-70), Velarde was recognized with the presidential award of the U.S. Legion of Merit and a Special Freedom Foundation Award, adding to his 21 other commendations. His quarter-century of active military service was highlighted by several special assignments with the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with key elements of the National Security network.
For 25 years after Joe's disability retirement from active military duty, he dedicated his efforts as an activist, advocate and organizer toward enhancing the quality of life and work of migrant farm workers, immigrants, refugees and other "working poor," who comprise some six million disenfranchised members of California's population. In 1990-91 he served as editor of The Education of Adult Migrant Farmworkers. published by the US Department of Education. In November, 1992, he developed a national issues policy paper, "America's Farmworkers and Their Quality of Life," at the behest of then President-elect Bill Clinton's Transition Team.
Born in Louisiana of Cuban parents, he is married to Carol Ann Greenwood, an active civil rights and social justice advocate, with whom he shares a blended, loving family of 5 adult children and 14 grandchildren. Carol received the Earl Raab JPAC Award in 2001 for her outstanding political advocacy on behalf of the Jewish Community of the State of California.
Joe's major contribution to the sport of Fencing is widely considered by many to be the public actions that he took while coaching at Columbia University in November of 1949 at competition venues of the Amateur Fencers League of America (AFLA). His adamant refusal to accede to efforts to segregate his fencers ultimately led to the end of discriminatory practices against persons of color and brought about racial integration throughout American Fencing.
In the Spring of 2002, almost 50 years to the day, Columbia University's Alumni Fencing Committee acknowledged Velarde's work, by honoring him at the annual Fencing Team Dinner and presenting Joe with a statuette of a bronze lion, inscribed as follows:
Head Coach 1949-1952
Progenitor of the Golden Age of Columbia Fencing."
Among those Velarde credits with having contributed important strengths and values to his personal life and professional development over many years, are his former fencing coaches: Emanuel Ehrlich, Maestro Antonino Greco, Professor Joe Smith, and Maestro Julio (Pop) Martinez Castello, plus the following members of the United States Fencing Hall of Fame Honor Roll:
Irwin F. Bernstein
Dr. Daniel Bukantz
Hugo M. Castello
James M. Castello
Jose R. deCapriles
Miguel A. deCapriles
Ralph M. Goldstein
James A. Murray, Jr.
Giorgio L. Santelli
Charles R. Schmitter
Stephen B. Sobel
George V. Worth