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The WWII Parachute Wedding Dress

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During WWII, resourceful brides all over the country demonstrated ingenuity, creativity, and support for the war effort by making wedding gowns out of parachutes. Fabric for bridal gowns was hard to come by, and brides learned to make do – or do without. Meanwhile, parachute makers were held to stringent standards, and if a parachute was rejected for any reason, the white nylon or silk fabric became surplus. Many brides used that surplus fabric for wedding gowns. This is the story of one WWII bride and her parachute wedding dress.

Janet Gleason

In the summer of 1942, the Navy established WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). WAVES aimed to free up men for sea duty by replacing them with enlisted women for onshore jobs. Twenty-year-old Janet Gleason from Massachusetts decided to join the WAVES. She was assigned to Joint Fort Dix Army Air Force Base in New Jersey, where she served as a Parachute Rigger Second Class.

That same summer, Idaho native Reo Arland Casper, 19, registered for the draft. Shortly after, he enlisted in the US Marines and was admitted into an elite Marine paratrooper training school. Paramarines were required to pass a strict fitness test, with 40% failing the training course. They were also prohibited from marrying. Reo was sent to Fort Dix for special training and eventually promoted to Sergeant.

Reo Arland Casper

During training, Paramarines shared the classroom with Navy WAVES. One day, during a class where students learned to fold and pack a parachute, Janet caught Reo’s eye.

The two struck up a friendship. Reo and Janet enjoyed long walks in Central Park and concerts at Radio City Music Hall. Before long, they fell in love. Reo had completed his training and was preparing to head overseas. Before graduation, he had to complete one final jump, and Janet carefully packed his chute. Reo received orders and prepared to ship out. Before leaving, he asked for Janet’s hand in marriage. They planned to wed as soon as the war was over.

Reo and Janet faithfully wrote letters and looked forward to reuniting one day. Janet’s commanding officer knew that she could not afford a wedding dress and gave her a Japanese silk parachute. The beautiful silk was the perfect fabric for a wedding gown.

Janet designed and sewed her wedding dress and then carefully packed it away, waiting for the war to end. That day finally came when Reo returned to the United States for official discharge in California on October 19, 1945. He and Janet made arrangements to reunite in his hometown in Idaho. Janet boarded a train, and after three years, the two were finally together again.

As wedding plans got underway, the couple encountered challenges when Reo’s mother objected to the wedding. She was concerned about the couple’s religious differences. Unwilling to be deterred, Reo and Janet traveled to Dillon, Montana, where they eloped on October 31, 1945. At last, Janet was able to wear the wedding gown that she meticulously designed and sewed from a parachute.

Reo and Janet were married for 58 years. She passed away in 2004 and Reo, one year later in 2005. The parachute wedding gown that Janet made is now part of the Hutchings Museum collection. To see more items from this collection, or to learn more about WWII, search Fold3.com today.

90 Comments

  1. Lena Taylor says:

    So many wonderful stories. I came across a metal cigarette case. It has a domed top & engraved on the side “from the officers of the Dentuda”. This was a submarine commanded by Senator McCain’s father. I would like to return it to the McCain family.
    My very much loved stepfather, James Lovett Piland, was injured in action “somewhere in Italy”. He told me a story about Patton. He said he & his squad were under a shade tree resting in front of a Red Cross rest area. Along comes a motorcycle courier who went inside leaving his cycle unattended. Then along comes Patton & his driver. They came to a halt. Patton jumped out of the back & together he & his driver loaded the cycle in the back of their jeep. As they drove off my dad overheard Patton say to his driver, “Let that SOB explain THAT to his commanding officer. My step dad was born & enlisted in Texas. So he must have served with Patton during “Soft Underbelly” & had to have been with Patton before Patton was recalled from Sicily. So I’m trying to find out the campaigns my Dad participated in & which battle he was in when he was wounded.

    • Mark O'Dell says:

      This might help if he was the James Lovett Piland born in 1912 and died 1993
      Army Hospital Admission date Dec 43, discharge date Mar 44 (from hospital)
      Wounded in the Humerus or lower leg.
      BIRLS File
      30 Jan 42 – Enlistment
      29 Jul 45 – release (from service)

    • Ron White says:

      Google the senator and his wife should be readily available to contact. At worst, Facebook or the state of Arizona can help. I’m sure they will be thrilled that you thought of them for the souvenir.

  2. Ali says:

    Great story as always, thanks!

  3. Emily Wink says:

    My Grandmother was a displaced person from Poland in Germany and she wrote a memoire about it. There she described in 1940 how she married my grandfather in Nienburg, Germany and her wedding dress was made from a parachute that the paratroopers gave her! Love that someone wrote an article about this thank you!

  4. John says:

    Thank you all.
    For your service,
    Perseverance, Love for each other,
    Your stories when compiled all together
    Make up that book. I’m talking about the one called Life. Mine is so much better hearing the good stories of other. God Bless

  5. Tio T`cin says:

    Ma~na~su~o~é Wa~i~vo~na~é El~a~m`pu~pu~é Ah~te~hém, Good Morning Brother Warriors’,
    my name is T`cin (Little Ghost), I am a Vietnam Vet Marine, I also carry items of those veterans that came before me.

    In our tribal ways, we honor the old ones with items useful to them during their tours, those tools-of-the-trade, on my regalia’s I dance with a Civil War Bayonets'(CSA) strapped to my left side, a medicine pouch on the right, and an old deer-hoofed drawknife blade on my back, all scabbard with worn out moccasin and cinched up with a belt strap of rigging from grandpa’s mule farm in Mesilla.

    In my hand, a 1944 ss canteen rattle, a 1945 USN whistle, and my church key, tied to the cap.

    I dance this way, with these items, so that those who watch what I wear when I`m called to the circle, will remember, always, not the sufferings of those whom put their life to protect Turtle Island, but of the sacrifice of who we are, our being.

  6. Karen Smoot says:

    I love the story of the Bride in the parachute dress. And I was grateful for the happy ending. Until I read the whole story I was afraid that he died in the war. And although, my Mother did not wear such a lovely dress , they did have to elope in 1941 as my Father was Baptist and my mother Catholic. My grandmother never thought it would work, but 56 years and 8 good Catholic kids later, proved her wrong.

    I also look for anything about the Bataan Death March as my Father’s brother survived the march only to die on the ship with many other POW’s on their way to Japan. I read everything I can about WWll.

    • I found a old newspaper on the floor of a barn that may be of interest to you. The Bellingham Herald newspaper/February 22, 1945. On the front page is a column under the title of- Third Jap Prison Ship Sunk; 800 Americas Die. I posted this picture on my Flickr site, on page 6 (Flickr.com/Photos/jpsorensen). I hope this is of some help. Jerry Sorensen

  7. Hi, I have a very similar story. My Uncle was in the Air Force in World War II. He was a gunner. He brought home a World War II Parachute and gave it to my Mom. She in turn made my Baptismal Dress that I wore in 1959 as well as my 2 sisters. I gave it to my son for his daughter’s Baptism in 2014. So, the family Baptismal dress stays in the family and went from the horrors of World War II to a blessed event.

  8. Rebecca says:

    My aunt and uncle (both deceased now) had a similar story. He was a POW in WWII, and managed to hang on to his parachute. She waited for him to come home, and then made her wedding gown out of his parachute.

  9. Amy Sussek says:

    Lovely story.
    My dad served in the Army 95th Infantry 378th in France, Belgium, Germany. I have 2 red silk scarves he had made for his mother by a Belgium lady. They have a M needlepointed on them for Maude.

  10. ELLEN THIEL says:

    My mother and my uncle were both young children during the war in Germany lived in Bavaria under Hitler’s rule but my grandfather was actually from France and even though he lived most of his adult in Germany he had no love for living under the ruling of Hitler, and neither did the family.
    One day my Mom and uncle were in the woods collecting firewood with their horse drawn cart , they heard a voice calling them asking them for help. What they found was an injured American paratrooper who was badly injured. He had been caught in trees during his decent, he had managed to cut himself free but while falling to the ground he had hurt his ribs and had injured his bad leg badly.
    They knew they had to help him even though they were very afraid because they also also what would happen if they were caught doing so, they decided to put him into the wood cart, covered him with sticks and branches and a tarp. Now they lived on the fringes of Augsburg, miles outside of the city, so it was mostly farmland and woods and no one thought too much about 2 local kids collecting firewood, and making their way home.
    When they were near home my uncle ran ahead and found his dad, and told him what had happened. My grandpa met my mom at the gate, opened it and led the horse right to the barn. My mom said Opa was very quiet, he seemed worried and once they were all in the barn he warned them sternly not to say anything to anyone about what had happened, but my mom said they already knew that and promised they wouldn’t. He then told them to go to the house and to send Oma out to him and for them to stay in the house. Afterwards they were forbidden to go into the barn and so never really saw the soldier again, Only Oma and Opa would go to the barn to care for him and bring him foo But my mom and uncle would hear them speak quietly about him to each other. A day later Opa went into the city and invited a friend that he had known for a very long time to come over to the house for dinner, which in itself was unusual due to the fact that food was scarce and having guests over for a meal was not a usual occurrence. Mom and Uncle Mick knew this man as Uncle Paul, but he was really just a friend of Opa’s that came from the same city in France that Opa had come from . When he arrived Opa took him into the shed, where Mom said they stayed for a while before they came inside. Two days later my Opa sent my mother and uncle to see their mothers sister in the city. He told them to stay there until either he or Oma came to fetch them. They stayed overnight and in the morning Oma came for them and they returned home. The soldier was no longer there.
    Now some time passed, and the war finally ended. Everyone was poor and didn’t have much, no one had jobs, but they were free
    One day a jeep pulled up to the gate in front of my Oma and Opa house, and some military officers get out, opened the gate and came to the door. Opa had seen them from the yard and walked up to him. They asked if he was Henrich Danne and he said yes he was, they said they would like to talk to him and he invited them into the house for coffee. My Oma made coffee and offered them some kuchen, My mom and dad were watching from around the corner and wondering what in the world was happening, and why there were military officers sitting in the kitchen, at the table drinking coffee and eating kucken.
    The officers thanked my Oma and then turned to my Opa and told him this.
    After the occupation they had found many many records pertaining to the Nazi’s, and one of those records referred to as the BLACK LIST, which was more or less the “Most Wanted” list of the Nazi’s. It was normal that if your name was on that list you they would soon come for you, you would be taken away, and most likely sent to a concentration camp or be executed.
    My Opa’s name was on that list and it was claimed that he was a member of the French resistance.
    My Opa knew exactly what they were referring to, and said NO, I was not, but a friend of mine was, His name was Paul, and I contacted him at one point during the war because I was harboring an American in my home. Paul helped him get out of Germany and back to where he belonged, The paratrooper once he was safe had also given my Opa’s name as one of the men who had helped him.
    That group of French resisters were captured by the Nazi’s toward the end of the war, most had been executed and a fe were imprisoned.My Opa found out later that his friend, Paul, Had been found out after he snuck back into France and was immediately executed. Somehow thru that they had found out about my Opa and what he had done. It would not have been long before they had come for him and his fare would have been sealed, but luckily the war ended before they could.
    Thru discussion afterward with U.S. Military personal they found out that my Opa had been a Master Boilermaker before the war (A boilermaker is a tradesperson who manufactures, installs, and maintains boilers, tanks, and closed vats. Boilers heat the liquid, usually water, that is used to generate electric power or provide heat to buildings, factories,). As the military was was just establishing new bases throughout Europe, and one just happened to be going up in Augsburg, as a reward for what he had done they offered him the position of master boiler on the base. It was an amazing opportunity for him and the family. and he worked there as the head boiler maker for the remainder of his working life. He was so very proud of that job, and I, of course am so very proud of ,u Opa and what he did for a soldier in need

  11. James says:

    This was a nice story of love and ingenuity on the part of the woman I think it’s sweet

  12. Sharon Patterson says:

    These are great stories that should be collected in a book for future generations.
    My brother, PFC Duane G Bouden, was in the U. S. Army, Red Arrow Division. He was killed on Luzon in the Philippines, in March 1945. Can anyone tell me what battle he may have been involved in?

    • Carl W. Kelm says:

      Google under:

      United States Army 32nd Infantry Division “Red Arrow Division” and you will get a nice unit history, from Wikipedia.

      The Battle of Luzon, was from 9 Jan 1945 through 15 Aug 1945, which is where the “Red Arrow Division”, was engaged in that time period.

      If you know, your Grand Uncle’s date of death, you may be able to locate the general area where he was fighting, when he gave his life, by a day by day analysis of his unit’s battle history.

      Rest easy, American Soldier, your sacrifice is remembered by your family, friend’s and loyal countryman.

  13. Sandy Petros says:

    My mother was married in a wedding dress made from a German silk parachute brought back from the war by my uncle. I’ve been trying to find some museum that would like it but nobody seems interested. Sad because it’s a beautiful dress and my parents were happily married for 67 years.

    • I’ll bet our local Museum of North Texas History would love to have your mother’s parachute wedding dress. They have a special room for things of that sort, as well as two for World War II uniforms, one for males and one for females . I gave them my one of my dad’s Navy uniforms, and I think it is still in the guys room. You can contact them at 720 Indiana, Wichita Falls, Texas 76301, or call 1-940-322-7628.

  14. Ruth Marker says:

    What a fabulous dress, what a beautiful couple!

  15. Nancy Hudson Rash says:

    In 1952, my mom, my four siblings and I shipped out on the General Simon B. Buckner ship to Yokohama, Japan. It was my second trip as mom, my twin sisters and I were on the M.M.Patrick ship the first time in 1948. Dad was in the Army and served in hospital administration in those years. Before we left Texas the 2nd time, mom was given 2 parachutes, one pale blue and one light tan. She made dresses for all five of us from those parachutes which were great because they could be washed in the sink and dried overnight. I wish I still had those for the memories.

  16. Tom Scheffel says:

    A beautiful and heartwarming story!

  17. Ron White says:

    Inspiring story! Thanks for this. My folks married in 1943 as my Dad was heading to the Pacific Theater to serve on a radar ship for the remainder of the war.

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