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Norwood Thomas and Joyce Durrant Morris first met in London in 1945

By Lindsay Kimble
Updated February 10, 2016 11:55 AM
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Credit: Courtesy Air New Zealand

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Grab a tissue! After help from hundreds of strangers and one hopelessly romantic airline, WWII veteran Norwood Thomas has made it to New Zealand to reunite with his long, lost wartime girlfriend.

Touching down in Adelaide, Australia, on Wednesday, the 93-year-old finally got to embrace 88-year-old Joyce Durrant Morris after 71 years apart.

“The best thing I can say is that it was a revelation, it was a wonderful feeling to see this woman that I hadn’t seen for 70 years,” Thomas shared.

Thomas and Durrant first met in London in 1945 while Thomas was a 21-year-old D-Day paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. Seventeen-year-old Durrant was then a student nurse.

After the war, the couple kept in touch through letters, with Thomas even asking for Durrant’s hand in marriage. After a misunderstanding, however, they eventually lost touch. Both went on to marry others, but Thomas’ wife died in 2001, and Durrant divorced her husband after 30 years of marriage.

Decades later, Durrant’s son Robert Morris obliged her request to Google her former love – to instant results. After discovering that Thomas resided in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Robert connected with Virginian Pilot reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, who used his resources to find the veteran’s own son, Steve.

With the help of technology, Thomas and Durrant finally saw each other again in November – through Skype.

After finding the story in the Pilot, a reader set up a GoFundMeCampaign to get Thomas to Australia – and the donations poured in. With $7,500 raised, however, it wasn’t quite enough for Thomas and Steve, so Air New Zealand stepped in.

Airline executives arranged for both men to fly, first class, free of charge to see Durrant. The GoFundMe money is paying for the hotel and car rental in Australia.

“I’d rather die traveling to Australia than live sitting around at home wondering, ‘What if?’ ” Thomas told the Pilot before embarking on Sunday from the Norfolk airport.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing her smile,” he said, adding, “[And] giving her a squeeze.

And that he did: upon meeting each other, the pair shared a long hug and a sweet kiss, with Durrant remaking, “It’s been a long time!”

Thomas, filled with emotion, declared, “This is about the most wonderful thing that could have happened to me.”