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Wedding dresses are themselves meaningful, but there are some gowns that are imbued with multiple forms of symbolism. For Ruth Hensinger, her wedding dress not only represented her marital union with her soulmate, but it was also a reminder of her husband escaping the clutches of death and allowing them to be together. How? Well, the dress is actually made from the parachute that saved her husband’s life during World War II.
This incredible story has been preserved for history by way of the Smithsonian Museum, which currently has the dress in its archives. As the story goes, Maj. Claude Hensinger was a B-29 pilot whose crew was returning to base after a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, in August 1944. It was then that their engine caught fire and they were forced to evacuate the plane. Claude made it to the ground with only minor injuries.
The parachute proved valuable beyond a relatively safe landing. While waiting to be rescued, Claude used it as a way to control the bleeding from his accident as well as a pillow to sleep on. He later took it home to Pennsylvania, where he proposed to Ruth in 1947.
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Ruth used the nylon parachute as material for her gown, inspired by Scarlett O’Hara’s dress in the film Gone With the Wind. To make her vision a reality, she hired a local seamstress to produce the bodice and veil while Ruth made the skirt herself. The result is beautiful; you'd never realize the elaborate garment was once a nylon parachute.
The couple was married later that year, and the dress was passed down to their daughter and son’s bride before making its way into the Smithsonian.
During WWII, the parachutes of soldiers became wedding dresses for their fiancées.
The Hensingers’ story isn’t the only instance of a parachute becoming a wedding dress. In 1945, a young army pilot named George Braet was flying missions in Europe when his plane took enemy fire. His parachute protected George from flying metal and saved his life.
“My father came home with this parachute filled with holes,” his daughter, Kate explained. “If the parachute were not there, it would have killed him.”
When it came time to marry his beloved Evelyn, she had the idea to turn the parachute into a wedding dress. Silk was hard to find during wartime, and so she painstakingly removed the Army/Navy lettering to salvage the tattered material and transform it into a long gown.
“The story goes beyond us, because it's a story of love,” Kate said of the dress, which is now in the Cradle Of Aviation Museum on Long Island. “It's a story of bravery. It's a story of hope. It's a story of future.”