by Lisa Tome
After growing up just 15 miles apart, Joe Lofthouse and Earl Kelly have had a life-long connection.
The pair, Lofthouse, 93, of Elkton, and Kelly, 91, of Aberdeen, both served with the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II.
"He's my brother. My best friend," said Kelly.
Both were on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. They went in with 583 and were two of the 122 who survived that
They were also in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and in Hitler's Crow's Nest.
They now get together about four times a year and recently reconnected with other friends at Lofthouse's home. They said they meet up to reminisce and check on one another.
Lofthouse was born and raised in Perryville, Kelly was born in Darlington. Both Joined the Army in 1939, Lofthouse in Elkton and Kelly in Bel Air. In 1941, they were mobilized. In April 1942 they both volunteered for parachute duty.
"We got $50 a month extra pay for parachutes," said Lofthouse.
"Neither one of us had any money. So we went airborne," said Kelly.
They also said that the brown jump boots and bloused trousers permitted to be worn by the jumpers were an attraction.
"I was scared to death. We weren't scared to jump. But the landings were (frightening)," laughed Lofthouse.
"I don't know how we lived through that," said Kelly.
"We never should have lived," said Lofthouse.
"I don't know if we were crazy or if we just didn't give a damn," said Kelly.
Kelly was wounded twice. He later reenlisted for the Korean War.
Lofthouse went back to the 82nd Airborne Division in 1946. During his career, he served with
the Joint Chief's of Staff and later served in Hawaii.
He served in the Army for 21 years, retirning in 1962. "I came out of the service and I didn't even own a refrigerator and I had two kids," said Lofthouse.
The men seemingly could tell war stories all day long and never tire of listening to one another and remember the time they simply call "Hell."
"The parachute troops are different. I had the privilege of serving with the bravest young men of my time," added Lofthouse. "If he (Kelly) was in a foxhole now, I'd go with him today."