WW II veteran reconnects with his wartime sweetheart after 70 years

Norwood Thomas, 93, is reconnecting with a woman he loved and lost while stationed overseas more than 70 years ago. Eat your heart out, Nicholas Sparks.

'I have a picture frame on my bureau and I say good morning to you every morning'

Norwood Thomas fell in love with Joyce Durrant while stationed in England during WW II. Now, thanks to the internet, they're about to meet up again for the first time in more than 70 years. (Bill Tiernan/Virginian-Pilot via Associated Press)

Sorry Tinder, but all of the reciprocal right-swipes in history combined still couldn't touch this tale of true love in the digital age.

Norwood Thomas was just 21 years old when he met "a pretty little thing" named Joyce Durrant near London in 1944.

Thomas, a member of the U.S. army's 101st Airborne Division, had been stationed overseas during WW II and was just months away from heading off to France at the time — though he didn't know it yet.

"All I can say is it was long enough for me to become smitten," said the now 93-year-old veteran to CBS of his time with Durrant. "For me to decide that this is a girl that I want to marry and want to live with."

Their romance was cut short in June of that year when Thomas left England for France to fight in the Allied invasion of Normandy during D-Day

He returned to Virginia after the war without getting a chance to say goodbye, and despite his best efforts by post mail, he was unable to convince Durrant — who was training to become a nurse at the time — to join him in the U.S. and become his wife.

Old photos of the couple show what they looked like when they met in 1944. Thomas was 21 and Durrant was 17. (ABC)

The two lost touch and Thomas married another woman, whom he described in an interview with CBS as "a good woman, who helped my mixed-up head get straight."

It wasn't until after his wife died in 2001 that the veteran began reminiscing about his long lost love.

As it turns out, she was doing the same thing on the other side of the world.

Enter the internet.

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reports that Durrant, whose married name is Joyce Morris, lives in Australia. Now single, and curious about what had happened to Thomas, she asked her son Rob if he could find someone for her on his computer late last year.

Rob ran a search for "Norwood Thomas, 101st Airborne" and found an online news article mentioning the D-Day paratrooper. The writer of that piece put him in touch with his mother's wartime boyfriend and, before long, a reunion of sorts was in the works.

On Nov. 6, with the help of their respective sons, Thomas and Durrant spoke for the first time in more than 70 years via Skype.

Their conversation lasted nearly two hours, according to the Virginian-Pilot, and encompassed everything from what each had done with their lives to the physical challenges of growing older.

"Do you see me now?" Thomas asked Durrant, who has reportedly lost most of her vision, during the chat.

"No," she replied. "No, I can't see properly."

"Well, I'll tell ya, I'm smiling," he said, prompting Durrant herself to smile.

"I bet you are," she joked.

During their chat, Thomas, now 93, and Durrant, 88, talked about politics, sports, hobbies and the fun times they'd had while dating.

At one point, they showed off the photos they'd kept of each other from way back when.

"I remember you were walking with me one day, and the girls coming this way all had a silly look on their faces," Durrant reportedly said to Thomas during their chat. "Then I look sideways, and you're winking at them!"

"Not me! I would never wink at another girl," he replied laughing.

"You were such a scalawag, you," shot back Durrant, also laughing.

The Virginian-Pilot's feature on the duo on their digital reunion ended with Thomas telling his old girlfriend how much he wished that he could give her a hug.

"The only one big problem is, I can't take you in my arms and give you a squeeze," he told Durrant near the end of their conversation. "What would you do if I could give you a little squeeze?"

"Oh, it would be lovely," she said. "We could always do with a hug, can't we? Whatever age we are."

Given the distance between them, neither suspected they'd actually get the chance to.

Enter the internet again.

Local news coverage of the couple's Skype call in November was picked up by media outlets around the world, propelling it across the viral web and into the hearts of many.

One woman in Virginia Beach, where Thomas lives, was so taken with the story that she contacted the war veteran and asked for his permission to set up a fundraising campaign in his name.

Her end goal? To send Thomas on a trip to Australia, where he'll be reunited with his sweetheart in person after more than 70 years apart.

The GoFundMe campaign had received almost $7,500 US from more than 320 people when it was halted this week after Air New Zealand swooped in to cover the entire trip.

"The airline confirmed this week that it had made arrangements to send Thomas and his caretaker son, Steve, to Adelaide, Australia, next month," reports The Virginian-Pilot. "They'll fly first class, free of charge."

While slightly nervous about the reunion, Thomas told Norfolk, Va., CBS-affiliate WTKR that he's counting down the days until he can see Durrant in person again.

"I am going to a world that I have never seen and meeting a woman I haven't seen in 70 years," said Thomas, who leaves for Australia on Feb. 8.

"Seventy years is a long time, and at the time it was very intense, and it took a while for that to die, and we will find out if it died completely."

Fortunately, he's already got his first step planned out: A simple hug.

"That is the first thing I am going to do," Thomas said. "I'm going to give her a squeeze."


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