South Side Army vet finds wedding gown of her dreams | TribLIVE.com
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South Side Army vet finds wedding gown of her dreams

Shirley McMarlin
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Davis tells her story as she tries on wedding dresses.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Fashion consultant Thea Stricklin helps Katie Davis, 28, of Pittsburgh, try on wedding gowns during the Brides Across America event at MB Bride in Greensburg on July 17. Davis served in the Army for 11 years.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Store manager Jennifer Mason carries a dress for Army veteran Katie Davis to try on during the Brides Across America event at MB Bride in Greensburg on July 17.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Dresses available for military and first responder brides are seen during the July 17 Brides Across America event at MB Bride in Greensburg.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
U.S. Army veteran Katie Davis, 28, of Pittsburgh, tries on wedding dresses during the July 17 Brides Across America event at MB Bride in Greensburg, during which military personnel and first responders or their fiancees are offered free gowns.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Fashion consultant Thea Stricklin shares a laugh with Army veteran Katie Davis, 28, of Pittsburgh during Wednesday’s Brides Across America event at MB Bride in Greensburg. The program offers free gowns to military personnel and first responders or their fiancees, as a thank you for their service.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Store manager Jennifer Mason takes a photo of Army veteran Katie Davis after she “said yes to the dress.”

Katie Davis said yes to the dress.

The Pittsburgh South Side resident was in Greensburg on Wednesday to find a wedding gown during the annual Brides Across America event at MB Bride.

Founded in 2008, Brides Across America offers military and first responder brides a free wedding gown via its Operation Wedding Gown program.

Each year, dozens of Operation Wedding Gown giveaways are held during July and November at participating bridal salons nationwide. To date, the Andover, Mass.-based nonprofit has provided more than 24,000 wedding dresses and 22 free weddings, according to its website.

The perfect gown

In less than an hour, with the help of MB Bride fashion consultant Thia Stricklin, Davis settled on a pure white sleeveless gown with a bead-appliqued top and flowing skirt and train, edged in glittering silver.

“We put a dress on her, and then we try to beat it,” Stricklin said.

Davis, an 11-year Army veteran, left the service as an E-4 supply specialist in February. She will marry her fiance, fellow Army veteran Rayshawn Banks, in August in Las Vegas.

Though both are Pittsburgh natives, Davis said they met in the service — and initially, she was not too impressed.

“I’d met him; I’d seen him around. I’d find him staring at me, but then I thought, eh,” she said.

Eventually, she said, Banks came up to her and said, “Hey, Davis — there’s no first names in the military — I’m shipping out in a couple of weeks. Can I keep in touch?”

They communicated for a while, but that waned. Eventually, they reconnected on Facebook and bonded over their shared experience of being a single parent of one child.

Banks proved he had been serious from the start, supporting Davis through a series of medical issues, and proposing in December 2017. The couple now have two young children of their own, 2 and 1.

‘Dear to my heart’

Davis was one of seven women registered for the Gowns Across America event, which store manager Jennifer Mason said “is dear to my heart.”

Mason was so eager to be present that she cut short a family vacation, leaving her husband and three children in Put-In-Bay, Ohio, to get on the road at 5 a.m. and be in Greensburg when the store opened at 11.

“I was a military bride and an MB Bride before that,” she said.

Mason and her Army veteran husband planned their wedding via letters, while she was in Greensburg and he was in boot camp in Georgia. Her experience with MB Bride went so well that she applied for a job and has been there for 17 years.

Mason said Brides Across America supplies some gowns for the giveaway, while others are chosen from store inventory. Brides can choose a veil from the store’s overstock and gowns can be pressed and stored for free. Alterations, if needed, are extra.

Mason and Stricklin teared up when Davis announced her final selection, something they said happens all the time at MB Bride — not just during Operation Wedding Gown.

“That moment is so exciting,” Mason said. “It never gets old.”

A way to say thanks

Brides Across America founder Heidi Janson “was inspired to do something special to express gratitude for the dedicated men and women of the United Sates Armed Forces. Brides Across America began its work with a small network of salons that donated time and resources to head up the inaugural program,” the website says. “In that first year, 50 gowns were given away to military brides. In 2016, the organization expanded its mission to include first responders that put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis.”

Gown recipients can be active or retired military personnel or first responders, or be planning to marry someone in either of those fields.

For Gowns Across America event information and registration, visit bridesacrossamerica.com.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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