NORFOLK, Va. – A 93-year-old World War II veteran is embarking on a 10,500-mile journey to Australia to visit his wartime girlfriend after more than 70 years apart.
It will take Norwood Thomas, who boarded a plane Sunday from Norfolk with his son, two days to reach the country, where he will be reunited with Joyce Morris, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
"I'd rather die traveling to Australia than live sitting around at home wondering, 'What if?'" Thomas said.
News media around the globe have printed or broadcast the story, which has gone viral online.
"It's the craziest thing," Thomas said. "I can't believe how interested all these people are."
The two first met in London shortly before D-Day. Morris was a 17-year-old British girl, whom Thomas remembers as a "pretty little thing," and he was a 21-year-old paratrooper with the 101st Airborne.
"Joyce was special. The one that got away," Thomas said. "But after the war, my orders to go home came so quick there was no real chance to even say goodbye."
Thomas, who hasn't seen Morris since 1945, has kept a photo of her ever since.
After the war, the pair wrote letters to each other, and Thomas even asked Morris to come to America and be his wife. But somehow Morris misunderstood and thought he'd found someone else. She stopped writing.
As time passed, the two went on with their separate lives. They both married other people, had careers and children. Thomas' wife died in 2001. Morris divorced her husband after 30 years.
Last year, Morris asked one of her sons to look for Thomas on the Internet, where she found his name featured in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper's D-Day series called "The Lucky Few."
Thomas and Morris, who is now 88 and nearly blind, recently reconnected via Skype. After their story went public, hundreds of people made donations to help fund Thomas' trip to Australia, and Air New Zealand arranged the flight.
"It's really touching," Thomas' son, Steve Thomas, said of the donations. "We want them to know it worked. He's going."
Norwood Thomas said he's excited to see Morris.
"I'm just looking forward to seeing her smile," he said. "I have no idea if there'll still be romantic feelings. But at the very least, I'll get to spend time with an old friend. Just sitting and reminiscing will be wonderful."