Joan E. Gerichten was born in Camden, New Jersey, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Olney High School in 1950 and then spent four years working for Leeds and Northrup.
In August 1954, Gerichten joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, until October 1954, and was then assigned to the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, California, with a supply specialty. In December 1956, she transferred to the women officers selection team in Philadelphia, to work in recruiting. In March 1961, Gerichten went back to Parris Island as first sergeant for the Women Marines Company. Gerichten left the service in October 1961.
In 1961, Joan Gerichten married Bill Gerichten, an officer in the Marine Corps, and in 1963, they moved to Albany, Georgia. A few years later, her husband went overseas and she moved to Willingboro, New Jersey, with their children. He returned in 1966 and they settled in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where Gerichten was senior hostess on the Marine Corps base. She also held that position at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, when they moved there in 1969. In 1974, Joan Gerichten joined a reserve unit in Greensboro, North Carolina.