VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- If you're feeling the spirit of giving this holiday season, there's a new effort to connect a World War II hero with his long lost love.
Norwood Thomas and Joyce Durrant met and fell in love before he parachuted into Normandy. Separated by decades and oceans, a local woman has now started a campaign to reunite the two lovers.
It is a love story that has touched the hearts and wallets of hundreds in our area. In just one month, the campaign has raised almost $7,000. The goal is to get enough money to send now 93-year-old Norwood to Australia to be with his first love Joyce, for the first time since 1944.
If theirs is a fairy tale, this is the effort to end with, "And they lived happily ever after..."
After more than 70 years, a mischievous smile still spreads across Norwood's face as he thinks about the first time he saw Joyce on the banks of the River Thames.
"She was an exceptionally beautiful young lady and I was very interested," he recalled.
Once upon a time, Norwood was an American paratrooper serving in the 101st Airborne in war-torn England. Joyce was a 17-year-old, soon-to-be nursing student. The two visited seaside villages, went to the pictures and carnivals. Theirs was a whirlwind romance.
"I liked her very much to begin with, and it very rapidly turned to a very strong feeling," Norwood described.
But a happy ending was not to be, at least not back then in 1944. Joyce had plans of nursing training, while Norwood got notice he'd be leaving for France. The two eventually went their separate ways, leaving the young paratrooper heartbroken.
"It hurt, empty," Norwood told 13News Now of the goodbye.
The pain of first love ending was soon replaced with the horrors of war. Norwood dropped into Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion.
"We were all young," the Virginia Beach veteran recounted. "None of us had ever seen warfare before. We didn't know what it was like, how vicious it could be, and we learned there how cruel a man could be to people."
Norwood came home a hero, although even 70 years later, he doesn't see it that way.
"Well, what I did wasn't so brave," he maintained. "I just did what I was supposed to do."
Time and life moved on, even though the soldier had a place in his heart for Joyce, he fell in love with another woman. They were married for 56 years.
"I had a good marriage," Norwood detailed. "I met a good woman who helped me get my scrambled-up head straightened out, but she has been gone for 14 years. So that left room for someone else to move in."
Across the globe in Australia, Joyce had never forgotten her long-lost love. Her son found Norwood on the Internet and was able to get in touch. Soon, a date different than those long walks on the Thames was setup. The two connected over Skype.
"I don't really know the excitement or emotion that I felt at that time," Norwood explained. "I hadn't heard her call me 'Tommy' for 71 years."
Norwood and Joyce's love story spread and touched many hearts, including local vet Barbara McDonald's.
"I think it's what we should be doing," she told us. "I mean, he's a hero. We should make him happy."
The self-described "practical woman" who doesn't believe in fairy tales, breaks down into tears while listening to Norwood talk. She's started a GoFundMe campaign to send Norwood to Australia.
"Norwood is just one of the best people I've ever met in my life and I think he deserves this," McDonald said. "I think we deserve to make a hero happy."
The 93-year-old is humbled and hesitant to accept the generosity of strangers, but knows this could be the next chapter in a love story, a story to be picked up again 71 years later.
"I told her when I was talking to her that one problem was that I couldn't get close to her to give her a squeeze," Norwood added. "I asked her how it would be if we were close enough and she said she thought it would be nice. So, I think the first thing I would ask her, 'Are you ready to be squeezed?'"