A World War II bombardier’s parachute was repurposed into a christening gown that has been used over the past three generations of his family.
Matthew Smith and Adele Guinee began dating in 1942. Guinee was a student at Emmanuel College and Smith was an 18-year-old sophomore at Harvard who had just enlisted in the Army Air Force.
When Smith left for basic training, he and Guinee wrote letters to each other over the course of his 42 missions in the South Pacific. While Smith was on rest leave in Australia and heading back to the Indonesian island of Morotai, his two-engine C-47 got caught in bad weather with low fuel. There were 23 men on board, but only 16 parachutes. They had to decide whether they preferred to jump or ditch with the plane.
Smith and 14 others decided to jump. One landed on 1,900-foot-high pile of rocks and others were hospitalized for weeks. One was killed. But Smith only suffered a concussion, scrapes, and bruises.
Smith flew 20 more missions after he recovered. His last was over Taiwan on August 6, 1945, the same day an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He was discharged as a first lieutenant that year, and brought the white nylon parachute that saved his life back home with him.
One month later, he and Guinee married, and the couple had seven children. When their first son was born, Guinee took the parachute and made a christening gown for him. The other six children wore the gown at their baptisms, as did their children.
“If it wasn’t for that parachute, my husband might not be here,” Guinee said. “I had never sewn anything before, and I’ve never sewn anything since.”
At a church in Somerset, Massachusetts last week, Guinee’s namesake and the couple’s fourth great-grandchild became the 18th baby to wear the christening gown. It had grown fragile and yellow with age, but remains irreplaceable to the family.
“We’re not the same, either,” Mr. Smith said. “But it’s been a joyous ride. The parachute is as old as I am, and we’re going down the same road in the end.”