Thursday, October 15, 2009

Moline's Second Military Wedding

Hi, Guys! On this night, 77 years ago, my parents were married in the First Lutheran Church in Moline, Illinois. My Mom would later claim that this was Moline's second military wedding, an unlikely event since Moline was home to the 57th Illinois Volunteer Infantry during and after the Civil War. But May's wedding WAS a big deal.

The daughter of a prominent factory owner and president, she married a dashing young second lieutenant of Infantry, a West Point graduate from the Class of 1931.
Both had graduated from Moline High School, with Mabel Johnson one year ahead of Gunnar Carlson. Although both were standout athletes, they did not date while high school students.

Their first date was at the Shorthills Country Club in the summer of 1932, where May was impressed that Gunnar was such a gentleman that he carried a handkerchief to place between their hands while dancing, and Gunnar was impressed that May let him kiss her on the first date. From that day forward, neither ever dated anyone else.

The wedding was among the largest held in Moline until that time, partly because it was advertised in the Saturday morning paper as, "one of the most colorful weddings to be seen in Moline for some time" and "a military presence will be offered by seven fellow Army officers... with crossed sabers both in the center aisle and outside the Church." Another reason was that the paper also announced that the public would be allowed to be seated in the balcony.

The crowd quickly filled the Church, causing May's father to begin placing chairs in the aisle until my Dad warned him that there must be space left for the wedding party to walk up to the altar.

May's Uncle Sam, from Detroit, was seated by the military usher, but on the "groom's side of the aisle." When he came back to the rear to correct that, the Army lieutenant told him, "It doesn't make a bit of difference, Mr. Swanson; we're not going to cheer here tonight anyway."

Apparently there was some cheering however, since the night of October 15th 1932 also marked the opening of the new Rock Island Bridge across the Mississippi River, about a block or two from the Church. After the ribbon cutting, many of the boisterous and somewhat looped crowd (during Prohibition!) wandered over to the Church to see what all the fuss was about.

One of the spectators was a young cub sports reporter from radio station WOC in Davenport, Iowa who had been sent to cover the bridge event. Once the bridge was open, he brought his radio reporting gear to the front of the Church and began reporting on the wedding and the scene you see above. The reporter at the microphone was Ronald Wilson Reagan, later the 40th President of the United States.

50 years later, May and Gunnar celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at a party sponsored by their two sons at the Fort McNair Officers Club here in Washington. In the next room was a wedding reception and Gunnar and May were asked to come over to speak to the new bride and groom.

May and Gunnar are together again tonight in the Mansions of the Lord. I have written this posting to remind them both that we have not forgotten their love for each other and for all of us. Happy 77th Anniversary, Folks!


Suzanne C said...

What a wonderful story for your posterity! Thanks for sharing. Love the part about Ronald Reagan!

Apis Melliflora said...

Wish I could have been there! But your retelling is excellent. An important day in family history.

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful story. What great memories you shared with us. Thanks so much for that. Happy 77 to your parents. J&J

The Dragonfly said...

She was a beautiful bride, he a dashing groom. Grateful they united those many years ago, as you my dad were a result of their union! Love to them and you.

Unknown said...

What a great memory to share with us. Congradulations to your parents for having such great kids.

Tobi said...

Wonderful retelling of a beautiful love story. Thank you for sharing.

Sue said...

Aw, Ken, you old softy! I know how you love a good soire. :) Thanks for sharing this great story.