One month ago, James McLaughlin’s family threw him a 100th birthday party outside his Tustin home – a socially distanced drive-by fete with cars honking and sirens blaring.
Just a few miles away, in North Tustin, Allen Edoff’s clan did the same thing for the same birthday milestone. Even the same Orange County Fire Authority truck rolled through.
Neither tribe knew of the other. But after neighbors saw social media posts about the twin events, word spread that two local heroes shared a birth date: Oct. 12, 1920.
McLaughlin and Edoff both served in the Pacific during World War II, and then in Korea. And the coincidences do not stop there.
They finally met on Tuesday, the eve of Veterans Day. Their timing could not have been more perfect: Nov. 10 commemorates the 1775 founding of the United States Marine Corps.
“Happy birthday!” Master Sergeant Edoff greeted McLaughlin as his grandson maneuvered him into McLaughlin’s living room.
“Happy birthday!” Major McLaughlin rejoined. “Semper Fi!”
For the next hour, the two veterans sat in their respective wheelchairs exchanging memories, commonalities and laughs.
“For as old as you are, you look pretty darned good,” McLaughlin told Edoff.
The fast friends are like brothers from different mothers. Both grew up in Pennsylvania – Edoff outside of Philadelphia and McLaughlin near Pittsburgh.
McLaughlin joined the Marines in 1940. While on leave two years later, he married his hometown sweetheart, Mercedes Moore.
Not long afterward, the groom shipped out to the Pacific Theater. The couple would not see each other again until the war ended in 1945.
Meanwhile, Edoff enlisted in 1942. And while based at Bogue Field, North Carolina, in 1944, he met Virginia Eden – who was part of the second graduating class of Women Marines. They wed six months later while on a weekend pass.
“Then she went to her barracks, and I went to mine,” Edoff wryly remarked. Actually, they did enjoy a brief honeymoon, right before Edoff left for the North Pacific.
Edoff and McLaughlin compared notes about their assignments – Midway Atoll, Wagga Wagga, Goodenough Island, Peleliu, the Russel Islands, Pavuvu, Okinawa.
After Japan’s surrender, in 1945, Edoff and McLaughlin made stops at various stateside bases, including Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro
War came around again in 1950. Both men landed in Korea.
Edoff retired from service in 1965. McLaughlin did one tour of duty in Vietnam before retiring in 1967.
As far as they could figure, the two men never wound up in the same place at the same time – until they bought their Tustin-area homes in the 1960s.
With only a couple of degrees of separation, their paths continued to cross.
Both became aerospace engineers. Both raised big Catholic families; Edoff has four children and McLaughlin seven.
Both lost their wives after 67 years of marriage, McLaughlin in 2009 and Edoff in 2011. Both still live at their longtime homes with the help of their doting daughters – who, as it turns out, were both born in 1958.
Get this: Lori Edoff Schicora and Mary Ellen McLaughlin Neer both attended Mater Dei High during the 1973/1974 school year.
“It’s all so bizarre that it’s almost creepy,” Schicora said.
Due to the way their birthdays fall, Neer was one year behind, so the two don’t remember each other from those days. As a sophomore, Neer switched to Tustin High.
“This is a great occasion,” Edoff said of the introduction. “I will never forget it for the rest of my life – how ever long that is.”
His only regret, Edoff added: “It would be marvelous for us to have been friends all these years.”
Their status as centenarians is an honor, McLaughlin noted.
“We can’t complain, because we’re able to sit here and talk about it,” he said. “A lot of our fellow Marines died young.”