Long-Lost World War II Lovebirds Will Reunite in Person After 71 Years: 'I Can't Wait to Give Her a Squeeze'
Thomas, 93, and Durrant, 88, first met on the banks of London's River Thames in 1945
Long-lost World War II lovebirds Norwood Thomas and Joyce Durrant will finally get to hug one another in person after being separated for 71 years. Thanks to the sweet efforts from a host of cupids, the couple will reunite in Australia for Valentine’s Day.
Thomas, 93, and Durrant, 88, first met on the banks of London’s River Thames in 1945. “Tommie” was a D-Day paratrooper with the storied 101st Airborne Division; Joyce was a student nurse.
Following a whirlwind wartime romance, the pair lost touch in peacetime, but never forgot one another. They reconnected in November after Australia resident Durrant, on a whim, asked her son, Robert Morris, to search for her old beau on the Internet.
“I typed in his name and instantly hit pay dirt,” Morris tells PEOPLE. “I was gobsmacked!”
There was Thomas, alive and well, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Morris reached out to Virginian Pilot newspaper reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, who in turn found Thomas’ son, Steve. The three men helped to reconnect Tommie and Durrant for a long distance Skype date.
Now, an additional bevy of strangers have banded together to send Thomas from Virginia Beach to reunite with Durrant for two weeks in Adelaide, Australia.
“I can’t wait to give her a squeeze,” Thomas tells PEOPLE.
“I look forward to giving him a hug,” Durrant says.
The embraces-to-be are the handiwork of kindhearted outsiders.
One was a Virginia Beach woman, Barbara Lee McDonald, who was touched by the story she read on Veterans Day.
“I thought, he’s a D-Day vet, and we should help him out,” McDonald says.
McDonald thought it would be “wonderful” if Thomas and Durrant could meet in person. She set up a GoFundMe campaign to buy Thomas a plane ticket to Australia. In two months, more than 300 people raised nearly $7,500. Others contacted the Virginian Pilot reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, who became a de facto go-between, putting donors in touch with Thomas.
The donations, while generous, were not enough to fund a trip for “Tommie” and his son, Steve.
“He’s 93 years old, and he needs someone to be with him,” Steve tells PEOPLE. “He can’t go on his own.”
“Tommie” resigned himself to connecting with Durrant electronically.
But another group of cupids from Air New Zealand in Los Angeles was already was in motion. Touched by the story of the World War II lovebirds, airline executives arranged to fly the two Thomas men free of charge to Adelaide, Australia.
“Like many others, we were heartened when we saw Norwood and Joyce s story and jumped at the opportunity to play a part in reuniting them,” an Air New Zealand spokesperson tells PEOPLE. “We re looking forward to connecting the pair early next month in Adelaide where Joyce now resides. We look forward to sharing Norwood s journey and the former couple s reunion.”
The GoFundMe collection, which now has ended, will pay for hotel and car rental in Australia.
“Everyone has been so generous and wonderful,” Steve says. “It’s really heartening.”
The trip commences early February, with an overnight stop in Los Angeles. Then it s on to Adelaide, with plans already in the work for a Valentine s Day dinner.
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“This has been great for my dad,” Steve tells PEOPLE. “He’s so happy to have found Joyce again.”
Between now and the trip, the two are staying in touch via Skype.
“I just leave them alone,” Steve says. “But I can hear him laughing in the other room.”