For Elizabeth April English, Wednesday’s ceremony was a far cry from the big June wedding she had planned.
The boudoir in which she donned her wedding dress was a military base locker room. The limousine that carried her to the 10:30 a.m. ceremony was an Air National Guard crew bus. The chapel was a C-130 cargo plane, and the wedding song was the roar of a jet on a nearby runway.
“If anyone asks, I was chauffeur-driven,” English, 23, said.
Staff Sgt. David A. Higgins, anticipating deployment to the Persian Gulf, suggested to his betrothed two weeks ago that they move up their nuptials. A fruitless search for a chapel led Higgins to the notion of getting married in the belly of a cargo plane at Channel Islands Air National Guard base.
“The way things are progressing, I wanted to make sure we would be together,” Higgins, 33, of Oxnard said. “We could have gotten married by a justice of the peace in a park, but this seemed appropriate.”
“I honestly thought he was kidding,” said English, who is employed as a desk clerk at an Oxnard motel. “He called me at work and told me it was all confirmed, and I just started to laugh.”
Higgins’ unit, the 146th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, was put on alert last week for mobilization to active duty within a month, Maj. Mike Ritz, base spokesman, said. Higgins is a nurse at Charter Hospital of Thousand Oaks and served as an Army medic from 1975-'78.
Although the ceremony’s setting was unusual, the couple’s pre-wedding jitters were traditional.
Higgins, wearing his green flight uniform, paced nervously in his unit’s office, inquiring repeatedly about whether his fiancee had arrived.
English stood trembling in a women’s locker room and wiped away her tears as her mother, Georgia Carroll, and maid of honor Lisa Anderson primped her hair and the puff sleeves of a wedding dress borrowed from a recently married friend. Upon seeing herself in a bathroom mirror, English froze momentarily, fought back more tears and grabbed her mother’s coat and drew her near.
The couple, along with about a dozen relatives and friends, were transported separately onto the airfield, which was whipped by blustery winds. The ceremony was delayed by the noise of an idling jet whose pilot graciously cut power when informed of his craft’s intrusiveness.
Lt. Col. James R. Price, the chaplain for the service, said he had married many couples on boats and one couple last year in a hot air balloon over Antelope Valley, but he’d never performed a ceremony in the belly of a military cargo plane.
“I feel like I’m in an old World War II movie,” said Price, pastor of First Christian Church in Lancaster.
At no point did Price mention the prospect of war and the newlyweds’ possible separation. He spoke instead of sharing joy and sorrow, needs and dreams, and how “love makes burdens lighter because you share them.”
“The aspect of war being on the horizon is something we all must live with,” Price said later. “I didn’t want to cloud the ceremony.”
The couple’s nervousness was apparent even as they exchanged vows. They placed the wedding bands on each other’s right ring finger, instead of the left. “I just put it on the hand I was holding,” the bride said.
“It was wonderful,” the groom said afterward, hugging his wife as she headed to get an ID card photo taken for medical and base benefits before proceeding together to a reception at their Oxnard residence. “I couldn’t ask for a prettier bride.”