The Parachute Wedding Dress

Saturday, February 4, 2017


     If there is one garment cherished above all others, it has to be the wedding dress. Most young girls plan for years and dream of the dress they will wear on their wedding day. For many, no expense will be spared, even though the dress will only be worn one for little more than twelve hours. More than any other garment, from that day forward, the wedding dress will carry the memories and promises made to each other in front of family and friends.
     During World War II and shortly thereafter when fabric was scarce, brides were forced to be resourceful. Some wore their Mother's dress, altered to individual preference, some wore their Sunday best suit or dress, and some created gowns out of fabric brought home by their husbands, fathers, brothers or sons returning from service in Europe or the Pacific. That fabric used was the beautiful silk from military parachutes.


     In 1947, one year after Maj. Claude Hensinger returned from WWII, he proposed to a gal he'd known since childhood. Instead of an engagement ring, he handed her his most important possession - the one that saved his life during the war - his parachute. He handed it to her and told her to make a wedding dress out of it. She did and the stunning dress pictured here is the result. Years later it was worn by their daughter and then their daughter-in-law after which it was donated to the Smithsonian where it is on display for all to enjoy.
     "And did you know a young girl made a wedding dress out of one of the pilots' parachutes?"
This was both a statement and a question I was asked over and over again by folks I interviewed while writing We Bought A WWII Bomber. The second half of the book is about the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in Meadows of Dan, Virginia where townspeople came to the aid of the crew forced to bail as the plane was going down.

     The source of the rumor began when Captain Arval Streadbeck, the last to bail when the B-17 bomber ran out of gas in dense fog, landed in the mountains near a farm a couple miles from the crash site. The Barnard family was up doing morning chores when they heard a tremendous explosion. The father went out on the back porch and heard someone calling out. He was able to find the injured Captain and lead him back to the farmhouse. The Captain limped into the house carrying his parachute. The word is, he handed his parachute to Jesse, the oldest Barnard daughter and said, "Here, make a wedding dress out of this."
     Vera, the youngest of the Barnard girls, confirmed the first part of the story but said her sister never made the wedding dress. You see, the Barnard girls had a brother who was in the United States Army Air Corp. When he came home on leave and saw the parachute, he told his parents they had to send it back to the Captain's military base. So Mr. Barnard packed it up and sent it back to Lockbourne Army Air Force base.
     I wish the rumor of the parachute wedding dress had been true. I would have loved to include the story, complete with photographs, in the pages of the book. Instead, I added the story to other mythical gems that grew out of the day a B-17 bomber, circled the historic Mabry's mill twice and crashed in a pig lot in a tiny Virginia mountain town.

     Do you have a story and/or a photograph of a wedding dress made from a parachute or another unusual thing? I'd love to hear about.

Leave a comment, tweet or share and I'll put your name in a hat to win a copy of We Bought A WWII Bomber.

*****
Parachute Wedding Dress story from The Vintage News  https://www.facebook.com/thevintagenews






6 comments:

Gretchen Griffith said...

I don't have a parachute story, Sandra, but the ones you wrote about entertained me enough! Even though the story of the family sending the parachute back to the army was not the ending you were looking for, it is so true for the times and the patriotism of the day. That in itself is a story.

Sandra Warren said...

You are absolutely correct, Gretchen.

I appreciate your comment.

Joan Edwards said...

Dear Sandra,
I could sit and listen to you tell the stories people have shared with you! They are intriguing! I believe that the fact that you are a good listener is one of the many reasons that people feel drawn to share with you.

I am very proud of you!

Never Give Up
Joan

Sandra Warren said...

Thank you Joan! You are a dear support for ALL writers, not just myself. I do appreciate it.

I never realized the joy of writing non-fiction until the bomber story came my way. I feel very blessed to have been able to share it, not only with the 1943-1947 alumni of South High School but also with the world.

It's so important that we writers capture these historical stories before they are gone.

Carol Baldwin said...

I don;t have as good a story as that one either...but what a beautiful dress! And a great story behind it.

Linda A. said...

Sandra, this was so fun to read. No parachute story here either. Wish I did have one!
Linda

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Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

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