Norwood Thomas set a record Sunday while skydiving.
Two days after his 95th birthday, Thomas became the oldest person to jump out of a plane at Skydive Suffolk in Virginia.
“I’m proud to be the oldest, it makes me feel good,” he said before boarding the Cessna Grand Caravan. With a tandem instructor, he would jump from about 14,000 feet.
The record Thomas broke wasn’t long standing, though. Earlier this month, a 93-year-old woman took to the skies. She and Thomas have military ties: Thomas as a World War II veteran and the woman as a Gold Star mom whose son died in Afghanistan.
“It gives us hope,” said Mike Manthey, owner of Skydive Suffolk. “If they can still do it at that age, hopefully I can.”
Thomas began jumping from planes as a soldier in the 101st Airborne Division, also known as the Screaming Eagles. He was one of 18,000 paratroopers who landed in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. However, that was only from 400 feet.
As the years passed, Thomas didn’t jump again. But before his 88th birthday in 2011, he came up with a bucket list.
“That was the No. 1 thing – to jump out of an airplane again,” said Thomas’ son, Steve.
Thomas also jumped in 2013, but didn’t after that because of health reasons. Steve said his father has Type 2 diabetes, stage 4 kidney disease and prostate cancer. Steve said the cancer is in remission, and the kidney disease and diabetes seem to be under control.
Skydiving, Steve said, gives his father “a purpose for being.”
“I gotta keep active, I gotta keep doing things,” the elder Thomas said. Last year, Thomas made national headlines when he was united with his first love, Joyce Morris, in Australia after 70 years apart. Morris died in December.
As he prepared Sunday with cameras flashing and recording his every move, Thomas didn’t look scared or nervous. He looked like he belonged.
Walking down the runway, he smiled at the fans cheering him. There was something nostalgic in his eyes before the door to the plane closed and took off.
“This is where old men can come back and be boys again,” Steve said of his father whenever he does anything military-related.
Thomas landed safely Sunday. He had minor wounds to his ear and hand, but otherwise was OK.
“It’s a thrill like always. We did a complete tumble, I enjoyed that,” he said. “I was enjoying the scenery. When you’re up there looking down on the world, it’s a beautiful scenery. It’s a feeling you don’t get unless you get up there.”
Because he was a member of the 101st Airborne Divsion, Thomas said he’s hoping to have six more birthdays. Whether he’ll jump again is the question, his son said.
“This may be his last one,” Steve said. “He doesn’t want it to be his last one, I don’t want it to be his last one, but his health may dictate otherwise.”
That doesn’t seem to hold back his father, though.
“My part is simple,” Norwood said. “I just enjoy it.”
©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.