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In the 1940s, brides wore wedding dresses made out of their fiancé's WWII parachutes

Since silk was in short supply during wartime, the silk fabric of the parachutes found a meaningful second life as wedding gowns.

In the 1940s, brides wore wedding dresses made out of their fiancé's WWII parachutes
Cover Image Source: YouTube/CBS New York

If there's one thing Say Yes to the Dress has taught me, it's that finding THE dress is an emotional moment for almost every bride. While for many, finding the perfect dress is the wedding prep milestone that makes it all feel real, for some, the gowns represent something very meaningful to their relationships. The latter was the case for many brides in the 1940s who walked the aisle wearing gowns made out of the parachutes that saved their fiancé's lives during World War II. Ruth Hensinger, whose 1947 wedding dress is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, was one of them.


According to the Smithsonian, Maj. Claude Hensinger — a B-29 pilot — and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, in August 1944 when their engine caught fire. Forced to bail out, Hensinger survived with only a few minor injuries and used the parachute as a pillow and blanket while waiting to be rescued. He brought the parachute with him when he was able to return home to the United States and later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947 by offering her the material for a gown. Taking inspiration from Gone with the Wind, the bride made the skirt herself and hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. The couple tied the knot on July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by their daughter and by their son's bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.


Two years before the Hensingers' nuptials, another bride named Evelyn Braet wore George Braet's World War II parachute for their Wisconsin wedding. George was serving as an army pilot who flew in dangerous missions to defeat Hitler in Europe when his plane took on enemy fire. Fortunately, flying metal lodged into his folding parachute and the young pilot was able to return home to beloved Evelyn. "My father came home with this parachute filled with holes," Kate Braet, the couple's daughter, told CBSNewYork. "If the parachute were not there, it would have killed him."


"My mother got the idea to have that parachute transformed into this beautiful gown," said Mike Braet, George and Evelyn's son. Since silk was in short supply during wartime and the lucky parachute was responsible for reuniting her with her beau, the bride started a labor of love to turn the tattered fabric into a beautiful wedding gown. "Something that was meant to save somebody from a crashing plane, then became the parachute that carried them throughout their marriage," said Kate. 75 years after Evelyn and George's wedding in 1945, the couple's children donated the silk dress to the Cradle Of Aviation Museum "to teach visitors about the bravery, sacrifice, and ingenuity of the Greatest Generation."


"It's just one story of millions, I'm sure, of what people went through during the war... and how difficult it was," said Mike. "My parents are now going to live forever." The gown means a lot to the Braet family as it served as the foundation for Evelyn and George's 60 years of marriage. "The story goes beyond us because it's a story of love. It's a story of bravery. It's a story of hope. It's a story of future," said Kate.

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