Throughout Steven Thomas’s childhood, his father would joke that his mother had almost been British. Across the globe, Robert Morris’s mother talked fondly about the American soldier who romanced her during World War II.
The two men couldn’t haven’t known that one day they’d facilitate their parents’ first meeting in 71 years — by Internet video no less.
Norwood Thomas was just 21 years old when he spotted a teenage girl and her friend along the banks of the River Thames. He was stationed at an army base 40 miles from the city. But on weekends off, the U.S. soldiers would take a train into London. That afternoon, he and a friend approached the two girls and invited them on a boat ride.
Thomas fell head over heels for the fetching Joyce Morris (née Durrant). For nearly every weekend after, he went to London to be with her. He even met her parents.
But when the war ended, after Thomas survived parachuting into Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, he returned to America. He wrote to her. He wanted to marry her. He asked her to cross the ocean, to be his wife, but she didn’t realize it was a real proposal. Life moved on, as it does, and they soon stopped speaking.
Until she found him again.
On Friday, 93-year-old Thomas sat in front of a computer in Virginia and saw the woman he once loved fill the screen. The 88-year-old Morris, now living in Australia, looked back at her lost love, though she couldn’t see him well because of her bad eyesight, smiled and said, “It’s been a while,” according to a beautifully told account by the Virginian-Pilot, which was there to observe their first Skype conversation.
“Tell me. Do you see me?” he asked.
“No, I can’t see properly, no,” she said.
“Well, I’ll tell ya, I’m smiling,” he told her.
“I’m sure you are,” she said, laughing.
Thomas thought Morris had died in a 1996 TWA crash. He’d read there was a British nurse named Joyce among the passengers and convinced himself it was her. But he kept a photograph of her that she’d given him during the war.
As they spoke, he showed her the perfectly preserved black-and-white photo.
Several weeks ago, Morris asked her son if it was possible to find people on the Internet. She’d often thought about her American soldier, and asked her son to look for him. And he wasn’t hard to find. Thomas, at 88 years old, went skydiving — his first time jumping out of an airplane since the war, and it was covered by the local news. He went again for his next two birthdays.
Her son reached out to the reporter who covered Thomas. The reporter called Thomas and told him he was in contact with his wartime girlfriend. Then the two sons started talking about how to arrange their parents’ first conversation in more than seven decades.
Except, Steven Thomas, in an interview Tuesday night, revealed the Skype date wasn’t exactly their first conversation. Morris, it seems, couldn’t wait for their middle-aged sons to figure out the technology. She called Thomas at his home.
He answered, and she said, “Tommy?” It was her nickname for him, back when all the soldiers called him by his last name. She told him that her son had printed a picture of him from the war that was online. He framed it for her and put it in her room. Every day upon waking she says, “Good morning, Tommy.”
When they spoke again on Skype, Thomas told her, “Just remember I will say good morning back to you.”
“I would love to be there to say in person,” he added.
Steven Thomas said it’s not out of the question. He’s already discussed it with his father. They’ve looked at flights. The elder Thomas has prostate cancer, so he’s too weak now to travel, but the prognosis is good. If his health and their finances allow, the Thomas men may plan a trip to Australia.
Until then, there will be more Skype meetings. The next time, the sons will leave the room. There won’t be reporters. They’ll let the two be alone to make up for lost time.
“The one thing he said about Joyce, he said he was smitten by her,” Steven Thomas said. “She was untouchable, she was special and he put her on a pedestal.”
The two former sweethearts ended their first face-to-face conversation in 71 years saying they wished they could hug each other good night.
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