Not many brides wear a parachute to their own wedding—but a woman named Ruth did just that when she married her childhood friend, Claude Hensinger shortly after World War II.

The parachute survived, along with the groom, during an aborted WWII mission, when Maj. Hensinger was a B-29 pilot. In August of 1944, he was returning to an Allied base from a bombing run over Yowata, Japan when an engine caught fire. The entire crew had to abandon ship over China, and that’s when the epic parachute unfurled to save his life. That night, it also served as a blanket and pillow for Hensinger as he waited for daybreak.

Luckily, the crew was able to reassemble the next day, and they were taken in by friendly Chinese. Maj. Hensinger was able to return safely to the US, and when the war ended a year later, he resettled in his native Pennsylvania, taking his lifesaving parachute with him.

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Back in civilian life again, Claude decided to look up his friend Ruth and began courting her. When it was time to propose marriage, Ruth was startled to see Hensinger on his knee offering not a ring, but the precious fabric that aided him during wartime.

“This is the parachute that saved my life. I want you to make a wedding dress out of it,” he said.

While Ruth wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the massive yardage of nylon, inspiration hit when she saw a billowing dress in a store window designed to look like the one featured in Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress to sew the bodice and veil, and Ruth herself designed and created the skirt from the parachute. She used the parachute cords to create ruching all around the skirt, hiking it higher in front and leaving it longer in back for a train.

With his request for a parachute wedding dress finally realized, Claude married Ruth in Neffs Lutheran Church in Neffs, Pennsylvania, July 19th, 1947, getting his first glimpse of the gown as she walked down the aisle.

The historical dress was later worn by both their daughter and their son’s bride, and today is housed at the Smithsonian Institution as a significant item in American History.

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