Parachute wedding dress finds new home at Airborne and Special Operations Museum
December 3, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Some sent back letters and little tokens of love. Others couldn't find the words to express their devotion, and so they sent nothing.
But when Sgt. Eugene Deibler Jr., of the 501 parachute infantry regiment 101 Airborne Division survived the June 6, 1944, jump onto the beaches of Normandy, France, he later miss Mary Abbott Smith a piece of his silk reserve parachute. Deibler, cut half of the parachute with his jump knife and stored it in his mussette bag throughout the campaign, he returned from World War II in December 1945. Days later, he stood in a cozy living room in Lemon Springs, N.C., and embraced Smith once again - this time as his bride. She wore his silk reserve parachute that had been converted into an elegant wedding dress.
On Nov. 21, Deibler donated Mary's silk dress to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in a private Family gathering. A fashion of the times, the dress shows an off-the-shoulder neckline, fitted waistline and delicate layers of silk skirt. The gift, in honor of his late wife, preserves the Deibler Family legacy for generations to come and bookmarks their wartime romance in the annals of airborne history.
"Mary had in her mind what design she wanted and drew a pattern," said Sarah Curry (Mary's younger sister), who was 10 years old at the time. "I went with her to the fitting with Mrs. Phillips the seamstress. They had to do ties because of narrow panels, and (the silk) had to be cut a certain way," recalled Sarah.
The day of the wedding, Dec. 22, 1945, little Sarah opened the door to her sister's bedroom. Her sister lay on the bed, so relaxed that she had to be awakened. As Aunt Octavia played "Indian Love Call" on the violin, Sarah watched as her sister exchanged vows with a Family hero. Then she watched as the newlyweds drove away, to begin their honeymoon in the little town of Southern Pines.
"They didn't get a bit of attention (in their honeymoon car) because Southern National Bank had caught fire," said Sarah.
"The day I met (Mary), I fell in love with her," said Deibler. It all began before the war, when times were simpler on the American homefront. As a young Soldier trying to survive the heat of a North Carolina summer, Deibler and three friends ventured into the 105-degree heat and away from the confines of Camp Mackall. As their car pulled into the driveway of the Smith residence, Deibler leaned over to his friend and said, "You date her, it's too hot." But as Mary walked down the steps of her front porch in a blouse and skirt, her skin tanned from a trip to the beach, everything changed he said.
"She came to the car and asked, 'Where should I sit'' and I said, 'Right here'," remembered Deibler.
A few months later, Deibler popped the question that would carry them through the war. Deibler said, "I got an engagement ring and asked her to marry me on Oct. 16, 1943. Men are supposed to forget those things ... I always remember that day."
Nearly 65 years later, granddaughter Anna Miller wore the same dress to her own wedding rehearsal. Miller remembers that night, and the tears in Diebler's eyes. "I know how much it meant to grandpa - he always wanted one of us to wear the dress," said Miller.
For Miller and her Family, donating the dress to a museum will help keep the story alive. "The significance of the dress and its history and the love between my grandparents, that is what's important," said Miller.
The donated dress will join thousands of pieces of history in the collections area of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum. Ninety percent of the museum's pieces are in climate-controlled storage, and periodically rotate onto the floor as needed. According to David Yow, director, Airborne and Special Operations Museum Directorate of Plans Training and Mobilization, the dress (once authenticated) will most likely he displayed during a 'life on the homefront' special exhibit. When it does, the Deibler Family hopes to pay tribute to their grandparents' legacy of duty and devotion, a legacy that will hopefully ring true for others as well.
Married to his wife for 61 years, Deibler still compliments his departed 'sweet' Mary. "Everybody would say, 'How did you get her'' and I'd reply, 'I have hidden talents'."