For Veterans Day, we have the story of Claude and Ruth Hensinger, who used the parachute that saved Claude’s life during World War II to help build their lives and their 49 year marriage together.

The Wedding Dress That Dropped From The Sky (Patch)

Dress, 1-Piece (Smithsonian Museum of American History)

The veterans museum in my state, Wisconsin, likes to say that every veteran is a story.

The latest figures show there are 18 to 20 million veterans in the US, not to mention the many millions before them. That’s a lot of stories.

Today we have one of them, the story of Claude and Ruth Hensinger, who built their marriage with some help from a parachute.

It was the nylon parachute Claude Hensinger had on hand when he was piloting B-29 bombers in World War II.

On the way back from a bombing run in 1944, his plane’s engine caught fire and the entire crew had to bail out.

Major Hensinger used that parachute not only to make it back to land safely, but to protect him from the elements that night. He used it as both a pillow and a blanket.

Claude returned to Pennsylvania after the war, having mailed the parachute to his mother, who dry-cleaned it.

And he began seeing Ruth. The two had been friends since childhood, and over time they grew even closer.

A year into their relationship Claude decided to ask Ruth to marry him.

But when he did, he wasn’t down on one knee holding out an engagement ring.

Instead, he had a box containing the parachute. It saved my life, he told her, and if we’re going to share our lives together, the parachute should be part of it.

He asked her to make a wedding dress out of the parachute.

Ruth agreed to do it, although her first thought was, how the heck am I gonna turn “this voluminous item” into a dress?

In the end, she did just fine, and the dress that Ruth Hensinger wore in Neffs, Pennsylvania, the day in 1947 she and Claude began their 49 year marriage is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.