WEDDING WISDOM: DAN & VINNY
“Here is my secret. It is very simple: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” These words were written 75 years ago by the celebrated French author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his best selling book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). Last month, those same words were read aloud--in French--to the guests gathered in the West Point Cadet Chapel to bear witness to the union of two pilots who themselves exemplify the idea that what is most important in life is perceived with the heart. Years earlier, Le Petit Prince was one of the first gifts that Dan gave to Vinny.
Prior to interviewing Dan and Vinny, I read their wedding feature in the New York Times (For Love of Country, and Each Other) that recounts their story: meeting as West Point cadets, coming out to friends and family, and maintaining their relationship through multiple deployments as Army Apache helicopter pilots. When we had the opportunity to converse, I asked the couple: When did you realize that you wanted to marry this man? How did you know? Their responses captured the essence of Saint-Exupéry’s words:
“He’s the kind of person who helps everyone around him excel.”
“He taught me to be compatible with others, and I felt one hundred percent compatible with him.”
“He pushes me to be better in every way.”
It’s the stuff that lasting relationships are made of, which makes celebrating Dan and Vinny all the more fun. As the first active duty same-sex couple to be married in uniform in the chapel of the nation’s oldest military academy, publications all over the world have shared their story in the weeks since their wedding. The decision to marry given the nature of their military careers carries an enormous historic significance that perhaps neither Captain Franchino nor Captain Hall recognized prior to the ceremony. When the two met almost ten years ago, the world was a different place, and neither man would have guessed that they would have the ability to marry the other in a place as momentous as the Cadet Chapel. The image of Vinny and Dan as husband and husband at the bottom of a traditional saber arch formed by their peers invokes powerful sentiment for same-sex couples.
Dan, originally from Chattanooga, TN, graduated from West Point in 2010 before starting flight school. As a cadet, he was coming to terms with his own sexuality in the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Vinny, hailing from Stony Point, NY, entered the military academy with the intention of becoming a pilot and met Dan during the year they shared as cadets. Several years later, when Vinny was in his final year at West Point, Dan reached out to him to talk about his experience in flight school, which launched a relationship of mutual respect and guidance.
In the summer of 2015, the pair were on leave prior to Dan’s deployment visiting his grandparents at their lakehouse in Minnesota. Vinny had already bought a ring and asked Dan’s parents for their blessing, and was waiting for the perfect moment to ask his partner to marry him. That moment arrived when the two were looking through photos from Dan’s childhood with his grandmother. Vinny suggested going to the dock to take some pictures as the sun was setting. Dan’s grandmother was aware of Vinny’s intentions and captured the proposal on camera. (She did this after noticing the camera batteries were dead and quickly changing them to ensure she did not miss the big moment.) The lake house was a sentimental and intimate location for Vinny and Dan to begin the next chapter of their lives together.
The fiancés wanted a religious ceremony, and asked Reverend Dawn Sangrey to perform the union. The significance of the West Point wedding was only magnified by Rev. Sangrey’s participation, which the couple indicated was “instrumental” in creating the ceremony. Rev. Sangrey made headlines in 2004 for performing same-sex weddings when it was illegal in the state of New York, and was arrested for taking a stand. Fourteen years later, same-sex weddings are celebrated throughout the United States and international community. Vinny face-timed with Rev. Sangrey while he was deployed to Germany to invite her to counsel the couple, guide them in pre-marital planning, and ultimately join them on their wedding day as Man and Man.
When the big day approached, the military officers and grooms-to-be prepared with meticulous attention to detail. The grooms both wore formal military uniforms down the aisle because of the significance of their West Point education and Army careers in their relationship. Vinny jokes that Dan treated the preparation of their uniforms with a greater level of detail and respect than any other uniform inspection--something that all soldiers undoubtedly understand. The morning of the ceremony, the couple repeated a breakfast traditionally enjoyed the morning of graduation from West Point: waffles and ice cream.
The challenge--and perhaps beauty--of gay weddings is that the customs of straight weddings do not always work. Some traditions can be upheld, whereas others must be reinvented. Dan and Vinny selected their readings together, including a blend of religious and secular literature that members of their wedding party read aloud. In addition to the excerpt from Le Petit Prince, the couple selected readings from the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), the Walt Whitman poem Song of the Open Road, and Justice Anthony Kennedy’s moving words in his ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. When it came to choreographing the ceremony, they simply took turns with who would lead and who would follow. Vinny said his vows first, and Dan exchanged his ring first. They selected sides in the church that corresponded with the sides of the bed they sleep on, and ended the ceremony with the iconic saber arch in which peer military officers raised their sabers in a salute to the newlyweds.
I asked what advice the pair had for couples planning a wedding, and their responses were nothing short of expectation from two accomplished military officers: start early, take small bites, use your resources. Choose the right person to perform the ceremony, someone with whom you can develop a close, spiritual relationship. Most importantly: marry the man who brings out in you the man you want to be.