Imagine meeting the love of your life, knowing that from the first moment you met, that this was the person you would spend your days with and have a family with. Only to be tragically split apart by the terrors of war.
Love at first sight
Norwood Thomas is a 94-year-old veteran who fought in World War II. In 1944 he was a member of the 101st Airborne Division and was stationed just outside of London near the River Thames. During this time, he met a young woman named Joyce Durant a “pretty little thing” and she caught his eye at first sight. The two spent every minute together from then on until Thomas had to leave to go parachute into Normandy.
Keeping in touch
The love between Norwood and Joyce was rare and strong, and they continued to stay in touch during the war, writing love letters to one another. In an interview Norwood described his love as a “goddess” who was “sitting on a pedestal untouched, pure and unattainable.” The two exchanged these love letters back and forth so many times, that to this day Norwood can still recite her old mailing address from heart. He continued to confess his deep love and offer romantic gifts throughout the whole duration of the war.
Although the couple were not able to spend time together, they still imagined what their life would be like after the war. Norwood said that the time they spent was long enough for him to get “smitten” and for him to know that this was the woman that he wanted to marry and have children with. It was his love for her that got him through the terrors of the war.
Stopped seeing her
Unfortunately, the love between them wasn’t enough to occupy Norwood from the war. Norwood said that after the invasion in Normandy, his mind was so full and he suffered from trauma that he couldn’t see Joyce for a while. “All of a sudden instead of seeing her the next week, I just didn’t see her anymore.”
After the war, Norwood came back to the U.S. and sent several letters to Joyce, asking her to leave her home in England and come to America. Unfortunately, it was too late for Joyce had already moved on. She said no to Norwood’s offer, leaving him heartbroken. Norwood was still extremely upset at the one who got away, but nevertheless he still tried to move on. He then moved to North Carolina.
A happy marriage
While he was there, he met a “good woman” who helped his “mixed-up head get straight.” They got married shortly after and had three beautiful children together and had a happy and long lasting marriage. Norwood said that he had a wonderful life with his wife before she passed away. But after her death, Norwood became extremely lonely, and started to reminisce about his former love Joyce. He began to wonder where she was and what her life was like, and if she too found someone else.
What could have been
Norwood couldn’t help himself but wonder what could have been if only Joyce said yes to his offer and joined him in America. He admitted, “I feel that had she come, our marriage would have been a success.” Of course Norwood knew that what is done is done and that he had nothing left but to just think and wonder about the life they could have had. He wasn’t even sure if she was still alive, and came to realize that he might never know.
Looking for Norwood
Joyce, just like Norwood, had been thinking about their past and what could have been. One day, when her son Rob was working on his computer, she asked if he could “find people on that thing.” She told her son about her former boyfriend from WWII and asked if he could help them reconnect after so many years. Of course, he was more than willing to help his mother and began searching.
He quickly did a search for “Norwood Thomas, 101st Airborne.” That then took him to an old article from a Virginia newspaper about a D-Day paratrooper named Norwood Thomas who went skydiving for his 88th birthday. Certain that he was the one they were looking for, he called a reporter from the newspaper, who then called Norwood.
Norwood was just having a normal day, shopping at Home Depot, when his cell phone started to ring with an unfamiliar number. He answered to the reporter, who told him that a woman by the name of Joyce Durant was trying to get in touch with him. It took him a few seconds to grasp what he was saying, and just gasped “Oh my God.” This was the moment he had been dreaming of, but didn’t think in a million years it would actually come true.
When Norwood got home, he quickly went to find an old dusty photo album from his closet, and pulled it out. He kept flipping through the many pages until he came upon the photo of her face and his heart stopped once again. It was the exact photo that Joyce had given him right before he went off to fight in the war. Even though 70 years had passed, the picture still was in perfect condition and appeared as if it was brand new. It took him right back to that moment and he was bursting with love.
First Skype conversation
Not long after receiving the phone call, Norwood and Joyce’s sons helped them reconnect over Skype. Norwood said that he was so nervous, because he didn’t know what to expect. After some fiddling with the computer camera on both ends, and help from both parties her image was clear as day. On the other side of the world sat an 88-year-old Joyce looking straight into the computer screen at a man she hadn’t seen in 70 years. The moment they had both been waiting for, and they could not believe it.
Grateful for technology
In Joyce’s thick English accent she says “Tommy?” Norwood, who hasn’t been called that name since the war, was still in shock, in his Southern accent, he replied “I’m here now. And there you are.” Joyce, now an old lady, gray-haired, smiled so happily back at him and said quietly, “It’s been a while.” Norwood still could not believe his eyes, or take them away from the computer screen and was shocked at how technology can connect two people from across the globe after so many years.
Thought she was gone
Until he heard from that reporter, he truly believed that she had died. He read a story in the 90s about a plane crash that occurred outside of London. When he read the victims on the list, he was sure that one of them, an Englishwoman named Joyce, was his WWII girlfriend. After telling this to Joyce she just laughed and said, “No, that wan’t me.” Thank goodness for that.
Always thinking about him
She confessed to him that she had too been thinking about him throughout the years and wondered where he was and if he was alive. She said she would often fantasize about her relationship with “Tommy” and always wondered what had happened to him, who and if he married and what his life ended up being like. She, like Norwood, could not get their true romance out of her mind.
When they first met
During their skype conversation, Joyce and Norwood had such fun reminiscing about the day they first met by the river and how romantic it really was. Norwood was walking by the river with his friend, when they saw two women renting a rowboat. Norwood saw her, and fell for her in that instant. He suggested that they take two boats instead of one. Norwood joined her in her boat and his friend joined her friend in the other. He remembered jokingly telling her, “That way, you could both get exercise.”
Young and in love
They spoke about how after that, they exchanged contact information and saw each other non stop afterwards. They frequently went on day trips to the beach and dined at their favorite restaurant. They also had many late nights at the local cinema. Joyce told Norwood, “I remember we used to take a lot of walks.” Norwood closed his eyes and nodded, “Yes, that’s right.”
Joyce amazed Norwood with just how much she remembered about their encounters and how their love blossomed. She said, while holding his old photograph, “I remember you were walking with me one day, and the girls coming this way all had a silly look on their faces. Then I look sideways, and you’re winking at them!” The two laughed and Joyce said, “You were such a scallywag, you.” He admitted that he was quite the lady’s man when he was young, but that Joyce was more special than the other girls he sought after. He admitted that he only had eyes for her once he saw her.
Joyce then asked a difficult question “So when did you meet your wife?” He replied that he met her in Durham shortly after being rejected by Joyce. He confessed to her, “You broke my heart.” Joyce blamed her refusal on a miscommunication. She thought that Norwood had already remarried, and was planning on leaving his wife for her. Deciding she didn’t want any part in that, she refused. This makes our hearts melt just a little and we can’t help but wonder what if.
Of course, they never spoke after that and they each moved on. Joyce spoke about how she graduated from nursing school, got married and then had two sons. Norwood told her about his three children, two girls and a boy. He said that after he returned to America, he worked in construction but then re-enlisted into the Army. Norwood spent time in Vietnam and Korea while in the service, until he finally settled in Virginia Beach.
Another topic was their health. Unfortunately, neither of them were in the greatest condition. Norwood was struggling with prostate cancer and Joyce was partially blind, and had sadly lost most of her vision. When asked if she could see him, she sadly said that she can’t really see him. Norwood said, “Well, I’ll tell ya. I’m smiling.” Joyce laughed and smiled back to him and said, “I bet you are.”
Norwood continued to talk about his wife, she called her a “saint” for putting up with him. He told Joyce about how he suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder for several years because of the horrors of the war. And although at times he felt like he didn’t deserve her, she decided to stick with him until the very end. Joyce said that she stayed with her late husband through 37 years of marriage, but that she wish she left him sooner. “I married an absolute sod. He was totally immoral.” This breaks our hearts.
Norwood replied, “I tell you what. If you had come to the States when I asked, we would have been together for 70 years.” Joyce blushed and quickly changed the topic. They started talking about their hobbies and even some politics. After a 2-hour long conversation, the two former lovers said their goodbyes. “I just wish I could give you a hug and tell you good night,” said Norwood.
The couple’s love story quickly went viral and spread all over the internet. On a go fund me page, people raised over $7,000 to fund an in-person reunion for the once love birds to be together once again. Thanks to the help of 300 strangers, and to Air New Zealand, Norwood and his son got to travel to Joyce’s home in Australia to spend Valentine’s Day together. And the couple finally got to be together at last.
When Joyce first saw Norwood in person, she smiled and told him “Well, you’re still vertical.” Which Norwood replied, “Give me a squeeze.” The two held each other for the first time in seven decades, yet it was as if nothing had changed. A full lifetime later, they were still head over heels for one another. Norwood said, “This is about the most wonderful thing that could have happened.”
Norwood could not help but grieve the loss of his first ever true love. One he will cherish for the rest of his life. This reunion will stay with him forever. However, he still can’t help but feel grateful that after 70 years apart, the two were finally able to hold each other once more and reconnect. After Joyce’s death, Norwood paid tribute to his love, and purchased a bench on the same path by horseshoe bay that they walked on together during his visit.