Sunday, February 14, 2016

Life in Wartime...and Ever After

So let your blue heart open wide
Let's never leave our dreams behind
It would comfort and restore my pride
If you let me be your Valentine...
- Nils Lofgren

Norwood Thomas is a ninety-three-year-old World War II veteran.  On a fateful June morning more than seventy-one years ago, Thomas and his fellow paratroopers in the 101st Airborne were part of the Allied invasion force that acquainted itself with a little piece of paradise known as Normandy, France.  Thomas's European "vacation" was significantly more difficult than anything the good folks at National Lampoon could have conjured up to foil Clark Griswold and his family.  For Thomas and the 101st Airborne, their European tour included not only D-Day but, also, the Battle of the Bulge.  He lived to tell the tale.  He completed every mission. 

Well, almost every mission.  

Prior to dropping into France in the early summer of 1944, Norwood Thomas was billeted in England.  At age twenty-one, he spent more than a little bit of his free time in London.  It was there that he met seventeen-year-old Joyce Durrant.  The two youngsters fell in love and apparently discussed the prospect of their life together after the war.  Sadly, as is sometimes the case with the best-laid plans of mice and men, their "happily ever after" never happened.  They explain it better than I would ever hope to be capable of doing, which is why I recommend that you spend a few minutes reading Mike Hixenbaugh's delightful story on the couple, which originally appeared in the November 10, 2015 edition of The Virginian-Pilot

Fast-forward four months to February, 2016.  This past week, a certain ninety-three-year-old retired member of the 101st Airborne, who served his nation with honor and distinction in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, boarded a plane from which he had zero intention of disembarking until it reached its destination, which was approximately 9,000 miles away.  Norwood Thomas flew from the United States to Australia to reunite with Joyce, his long-lost but never-quite-forgotten love. 

In the seventy years between embraces, each lived a life.  Each married and raised a family. Norwood Thomas is now a widower.  Joyce Morris (she held onto her ex-husband's name) is divorced.   They did not end up spending the past seventy years together, as they very well may have done but for a miscommunication, but they shall spend two weeks together - including this Valentine's Day.  

It has been said - and by countless people far smarter than Yours truly - that Life is what happens while we are busy making plans.  An adage whose accuracy I suppose that Norwood Thomas and Joyce Morris would each acknowledge, perhaps regrettably.  But every now and again Life is something akin to a carousel.  Something that passed you by initially, which you feared was lost to you forever, comes back around again where you can grasp onto it.  

Forever is promised to absolutely no one.  On the other hand, right now - this moment in time - is very much in play and up for grabs.  All you have to do is go get it.  I suppose that Norwood Thomas and Joyce Morris would each acknowledge that as well...

...and embrace it with a passion and affection similar to that with which they embraced one another upon his arrival. 

A lesson for all of us, I suppose.  And one worth learning not only on Valentine's Day but on all the days that shall follow it. 


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