“All through my life,” Norwood Thomas said, “I had this little thought of, ‘what if?’ ”
What if he had been more serious about the beautiful girl he met in London while on leave there during World War II? What if he hadn’t lost track of her all those years ago? What if he had said something different in the letter, the one he wrote asking her to marry him, that might have changed her reply?
He’d had a good, long life, a wonderful marriage, three kids, a home in Virginia Beach, Va. He was happy with his lot. But still, the 93-year-old sometimes wondered, he told a local TV station: “What if?”
He might still be wondering, if it weren’t for the fact that a woman on the other side of the globe was asking herself the exact same thing.
Joyce Morris, an 88-year-old divorcee now living in Australia, also had lingering questions about the handsome paratrooper with the Southern drawl she’d met in 1945. What if she’d said yes to marriage? What if she had moved to America with him? What might her life have been like? Where might they be now?
The thought came to her a few months ago, while her son was sitting at the computer, Morris told the Virginian-Pilot. She asked him: “Can you find people on that thing?”
A search for “Norwood Thomas, 101st Airborne” turned up an old Virginian-Pilot article about a man who went skydiving for his 88th birthday. Morris’s son contacted the reporter, who called Thomas. He was shopping in Home Depot when he got the call.
“Joyce Durrant?” he said, struggling to place the name. Then he gasped: “Oh, my God.”
Soon after, they were chatting over Skype like teenagers, reminiscing about their whirlwind wartime romance — “You were such a scalawag,” Morris joked; “I did enjoy beauty,” Thomas replied — and lamenting the miles between them.
“The only one big problem is, I can’t take you in my arms and give you a squeeze,” Thomas had said.
“Well, we’ve got to get on that then.”
And they will. This month, Thomas will fly the 10,000 miles from Virginia Beach to Adelaide, Australia, to hug Morris for the first time since 1945. He expects to be there for Valentine’s Day, according to CBS News.
I’m numb. I have no idea what my emotions are going to be once we meet face to face.
Some of the funds for the trip were raised by Barbara McDonald, a Navy veteran who started a GoFundMe page for the couple after she read the Virginian-Pilot story about their Skype date back in November.
“We can’t say it was a beautiful Skype date, best of luck to them,” she wrote on the fundraising site. “This story can not end here.”
Her campaign brought in about $7,500 for Thomas and his son Steve, who cares for him and will accompany him to Australia. Air New Zealand also has made arrangements to fly the father and son to Adelaide free, according to the Associated Press.
Morris and Thomas met 72 years ago, on the banks of the River Thames, just months before Thomas was due to parachute into Normandy. They spent all their weekends together, laughing, taking walks, getting dinner at their favorite cafe. And then, without warning, it stopped.
“All of sudden instead of seeing her the next week, I just never saw her again,” Thomas told WTKR.
Thomas shipped out to France shortly after and wound up moving back to Virginia after the war. He wrote to Morris from there, using the address in Surrey she’d given him.
He can still recite it, all these years later.
But when Morris received Thomas’s letter asking her to marry him, she was confused, she told the Virginian-Pilot. Something he’d written made her think he was already married but wanted to leave his wife for her. Morris wouldn’t think of it.
“And that was the end of it,” she said.
“You broke my heart,” Thomas accused.
But it mended. Just after the rejection, Thomas met the woman who would become his wife. They remained married until her death not too long ago. That’s when thoughts about Morris and the life that might have been began to creep back into his mind.
Morris, meanwhile, had also married and moved to Australia. She left the father of her two sons, she told Thomas in their Skype call, after 37 years. Since then, she also had been wondering.
The pair spoke for almost two hours, according to the Virginian-Pilot, reluctant to bring an end to their conversation.
“I just wish I could give you a hug and tell you good night,” Thomas told her. “But since I can’t, I’ll just say, ‘You take care.’”
Morris responded in kind, and Thomas lifted an uncertain hand to the screen to wave goodbye.
“Good night,” he told her, “for now.”