After using a parachute to survive a plane crash, Claude Hensinger gave the chute to his future bride to be used as a wedding dress.
In August 1944, Major Claude Hensinger was returning from a B-52 bombing raid over Yowata, Japan during World War II when disaster struck: The plane’s engine caught fire, and it began to plummet towards the ground.
Fortunately, Hensinger had a white parachute available for just such an emergency. He inflated the parachute as he jumped from the plane, suffering only minor injuries as he hit the rocks below. That night, he slept beneath the parachute to stay warm, not certain of his future: He and the rest of his crew were stranded in enemy territory, with no way to escape.
Luck struck again the next day, however, when Hensinger and his crew were discovered by a group of Chinese allies. The soldiers made it out of Yowata safely, but Hensinger clung to that life-saving parachute as a keepsake.
Three years later, when Hensinger decided to propose to his sweetheart, Ruth, he presented the parachute to her and suggested that she turn it into a wedding dress. Ruth decided to create a “Gone with the Wind” style dress, hiring a seamstress to make the bodice and veil, and completing the skirt by herself. She looked stunning as she walked down the aisle on July 19th, 1947.
And the parachute’s life wasn’t over yet: Decades later, the Hensingers’ daughter and their son’s bride were so amazed by their parents’ story that both brides wore the parachute gown in their own weddings as well.
Finally retired from “active duty,” the beloved dress is now in storage at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Originally published June 2011