1944-45: WAC Weddings in Italy
Besides these three wedding dresses, the Foundation has another artifact in its Collection that highlights love and marriage in war. Measuring just 7 ½ by 5 ½ inches, this small, cloth-covered wedding scrapbook tells a big story.
While serving as commander of the 6716th Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Headquarters Company, Peninsular Base Section, Naples and Leghorn, Italy, CPT Mae Simas not only led the WACs under her command, she often gave them away–in marriage. Although she failed to note at which weddings she gave away brides, she was present at 17 ceremonies that year, beginning with the 1944 marriage of T/5 Mary Jo Marling to LT Robert Spangler, which, according to CPT Simas, was the first WAC wedding in Italy. On these special days, CPT Simas stood ready to serve her WACs in whatever capacity needed. In fact, on at least one occasion in 1945, she acted as “Best Man,” when groom T/4 Edward H. Nauman wed PFC Doris McCarter at the Evangelical Church in Leghorn.6
Growing accustomed to her new “duty” of giving away brides, CPT Simas began to feel much like an old pro and after three times down the aisle, she stopped attending dress rehearsals. The wedding veteran took her role quite seriously and even felt a bit nervous at times. Of the Nov. 2, 1944, wedding of T/5 Phyllis Dukeshire and CPL Valen Mullenax she wrote, “The ceremony began. I was listening intently so I would not miss my one ©ue. It didn’t come. The ceremony seemed to be half over and I was still there. I tried to push the bride over to the groom but the chaplain shook his head NO. … Then I heard the magic words, ‘Who gives this bride in marriage?’ I weakly murmured, ‘I do,’ and stepped back.”7Read CPT Simas’ full account of the Dukeshire-Mullenax Wedding.
Regardless of which hat she wore, the WAC commander recorded each wedding in her tiny album, along with a photo or two of the bridal couple. She documented the names and ranks of the wedding couple, the date of the ceremony, names and ranks of honor attendants–often fellow WACs–as well as the name of the marrying official and where the ceremony and reception took place. Many of these service brides were wed on the patio or in “The Convent,” at the Instituto Femminile in Naples. Receptions were routinely held in the “Inner Sanctum,” a large room, which was normally reserved for WAC company members only with no male guests allowed.
CPT Simas, who later turned down a promotion to major to marry her sweetheart Charles Howe, had served briefly in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps before signing on with the WAC from Sept. 1943-March 1946.8 The WAC wedding album and the Dukeshire-Mullenax narrative were donated to the Collection by Dorothy Simpson in 1996.
Servicewomen, their families and friends who are interested in donating photographs, artifacts, documents or uniform items to the Women’s Memorial Collection, should contact Britta Granrud, Curator of Collections at [email protected] or by calling 703-533-1155 or 800-222-2294.
6WAC Wedding Album, Mae (Simas) Howe Collection, Gift of Dorothy Simpson, Women’s Memorial Foundation Collection.
8Women’s Memorial Register, Mae (Simas) Howe, Registration #043597