Wednesday, January 27, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Wartime Sweethearts Reunited

     Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and it seems that no matter how much we try to run from it, the season of love is impossible to escape! Stories like this one make it much easier to handle, however, and this kind of love is truly what Valentine's Day is all about. This touching tale was in the news quite a lot lately, and I've been following it since it started appearing. It's too amazing not to share this week, and I hope it warms your heart.

     In 1944, twenty-one year-old Norwood Thomas was stationed overseas with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. While in England, he came across sixteen year-old Joyce Durant near London, "a pretty little thing," as he described her. The pair quickly became close, but neither of them knew at the time that Norwood was only months away from having to head off to France. When asked to describe his time getting to know Joyce, Norwood said:
     "All I can say is it was long enough for me to become smitten... For me to decide that this is a girl I want to marry and want to live with."

     In June of that year, their romance was cut short when Norwood was sent to France as part of the D-Day operations. After the war, he returned home to Virginia without getting the chance to see Joyce again or say goodbye. Despite his best efforts by mail, he was unable to convince her to come to America and be his wife, as she was in training to become a nurse at the time. The two eventually lost touch and Norwood married another woman, who he described in a CBS interview as "a good woman, who helped my mixed-up head get straight."

     After her death in 2001, the veteran began reminiscing about his long-lost wartime love. Ironically enough, she was doing the same thing on the other side of the war.That's where the Internet stepped in to get the ball rolling.

     According to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, now eight-eight year-old Joyce lives in Australia under her married name, Joyce Morris. She also found herself single again, and late last year asked her son Rob if he could find someone on his computer for her. After searching for "Norwood Thomas, 101st Airborne," he found an online article which mentioned the now ninety-three year-old D-Day paratrooper. The writer of that piece was able to put him in touch with his mother's wartime boyfriend, and a plans for a reunion soon started developing. This past November 6, with the help of each of their sons, Norwood and Joyce were able to speak to each other for the first time in over 70 years via Skype.

     According to the Virginian-Pilot, their conversation lasted two hours and covered everything from what each of them had done with their lives to sports, politics, the good times they'd had while dating, and the challenges of old age. Unfortunately, Joyce has lost most of her vision. "Do you see me now?" Asked Norwood, to which she replied "No, I can't see properly."
     "Well, I'll tell ya, I'm smiling,"
said Norwood, which made her smile and joke, "I bet you are."
     At one point, the pair showed off the photographs 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. Then I look sideways, and you're winking at them!" Joyce remembered, laughing. "Not me! I would never wink at another girl," replied Norwood, also laughing. "You were such a scalawag, you," Joyce shot back.

     The Virginian-Pilot's feature on Joyce and Norwood's digital reunion ended with his telling her he wished he could give her a hug. "The only problem is, I can't take you in my arms and give you a squeeze... What would you do if I could give you a little squeeze?" He asked towards the end of their chat. "Oh, it would be lovely," Joyce replied. "We could always do with a hug, can't we? Whatever age we are."

     Given the distance between them, the pair never thought they would actually be able to have that hug. However, the Internet stepped in once again to bring them together. Local news coverage of the Skype call back in November was picked up by outlets around the world and warmed the hearts of many. One woman where Norwood lives, in Virginia Beach, was so taken with the story that she decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign after having consulted with Norwood for permission. Her goal was to raise enough money to send him to Australia for an in-person reunion with Joyce. After receiving over $7,500, the campaign was recently halted when Air New Zealand stepped in to cover his entire trip, first class, as well as accompaniment by his son. 

     Norwood is a bit nervous about the reunion, but is counting down the days until he is able to see Joyce again. "I am going to a world that I have never seen and meeting a woman I haven't seen in seventy years... 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," he said when reflecting on his upcoming February 8 trip. He's already planned out what he's going to do right away: "That's the first thing I'm going to do, I'm going to give her a squeeze."

     Hopefully this story warmed your heart as much as it did mine! I can't wait to see more about these two and the coverage of their reunion this February. If you'd like to see some video from their Skype conversation, you can watch here: Big thanks to CBC for publishing such a refreshingly nice article.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. if you'd like to keep up with me on more days than just Wednesdays, you can follow me on Twitter @DLeitchHistory :)

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