In a world full of news of hate and violence, perhaps it should be no surprise that a story of long-lost lovers reuniting should ignite the passion of Internet users.
The suspense has been building for months over the Shakespearean story of 93-year-old World War II veteran Norwood Thomas from Virginia Beach, Va., and 88-year-old Joyce Morris from Adelaide, Australia, who met and fell in love 70 some years ago, but in a twist of fate, never did end up together.
But this story is no tragedy, as today, Mr. Thomas is en route to meet his former girlfriend, decades after they last saw each other in London, and while he still can.
"I'd rather die traveling to Australia than live sitting around at home wondering, 'What if?' " Thomas said.
When word first broke that the couple was trying to reunite in Australia, where Ms. Morris now lives, the news went viral, grabbing headlines in print, broadcast, and online media. People were so touched by the couple’s romantic story that more than 300 of them donated $7,500 through an online campaign and through the mail, to send Thomas to Australia accompanied by his son. Air New Zealand offered to fly the two to Australia in first class for free.
“I'm a practical type of woman,” wrote Barbara Lee McDonald, a local bartender who organized the fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. “Fairytales and happily-ever-afters do not happen ... But today I read a newspaper story that renewed my hopefulness in love,” she wrote.
The two first met in London shortly before D-Day. Morris a 17-year-old Briton; Thomas a 21-year-old American paratrooper with the 101st Airborne.
"Joyce was special. The one that got away," Thomas told The Virginian-Pilot. "But after the war, my orders to go home came so quick there was no real chance to even say goodbye." This was in 1945.
The two exchanged letters for a while, and Thomas invited Morris to come to America to be his wife. But she misunderstood and thought that Thomas had found someone else, so she stopped writing. Each built their own lives and families, though by now have either lost or divorced their spouses.
When their story went public in The Virginian-Pilot in November, the attention from around the world poured in, with the public diligently following the couple’s romantic story as it unfolds like a Hollywood romance.
“Can't wait to see how this love story ends. To be continued…,” commenter Susan ONeill Mayo wrote on Facebook Sunday.
Australian reporters and photographers are expected to swarm the Adelaide airport, the Pilot reported, where Morris is coming to meet Thomas. But the airline reserved a room where the couple will meet in private, for the first time in decades.
"I'm just looking forward to seeing her smile," Thomas 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."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.