Jane Peak is a petite woman who could probably still fit into her wedding dress ... that is, if it hadn’t been sunk to the bottom of the ocean by a German submarine during the height of World War II. For her 60th wedding anniversary reception party, she wore a lace, tea-length dress and a bright smile. This time around, her husband would not be leaving to fight the most intense battles of the war.
Jane and Paul Peak were married just days after D-Day in a hometown wedding that reflected the realities of the day, mainly wartime rationing that dictated when and where they could have their wedding and what would be served.
Their wedding, according to their daughter Martha Peak, “was overrun by world events.” Paul Peak was a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard and was shipped out to fight in the war just days after their nuptials. A honeymoon was shelved for the duration of the war.
“Both the wedding and the reception were held at Jane’s parents’ home, located on a trolley line, because gas was strictly rationed. Jane chose an applesauce cake topped with a real gardenia, because it required less sugar and fewer ration coupons. She knew she was fortunate to wear a traditional wedding gown and veil, [so] after the wedding she sent it via the Red Cross to England, so that another war bride might share her fortune,” Martha Peak said.
“IT’S AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN, I’M AFRAID. When I mailed it, I included a rather long letter about our courtship and marriage. I was sure I’d get a letter back, but I never got a thing. It was sunk by a submarine, I suppose,” said Jane Peak.
She sent the dress because “in England the girls weren’t making anything as frivolous as wedding dresses at that time.”
Jo Rondestvedt, her maid of honor, said the wedding 60 years ago “was unique. It was at the family home. No one did that at the time. Of course, that didn’t factor in to the fun we had.” She added, “A lot of couples got married before the guy shipped out. But we weren’t worried for Paul. We all knew he was going.”
In fact, the Coast Guard graduated Paul Peak several months early because it needed officers to serve and military campaigns were at their most intense of the war during that time frame. “You did what you had to do then. You didn’t go around being all depressed about it,” said Jane Peak.
Celebrating their anniversary at the same time as the WW. II dedication and the start of D-Day seemed perfectly natural to the couple, because they’ve dedicated their lives to military service. But they chose to focus on life, instead of war and death, for their anniversary.
To that end, over 200 people from all across the country turned out to celebrate their 60th anniversary at Vinson Hall in McLean, where they are residents. Several wedding party members attended, as did many old friends who could also claim the remarkable 60-year benchmark. Their three children also attended the event.
THE COUPLE HELD A CHAMPAGNE BUFFET celebration for their friends and fellow residents of Vinson Hall that was a dramatic departure from the reception held so long ago at the bride’s family home. The cake was layer upon layer of pure sugar, but the couple cut the cake with the same saber Paul Peak used six decades ago in the back yard of Jane’s parents’ house.
Of the difference, Paul Peak said, “It’s the contrast that comes with 60 years. We’re the kind of folks who like to mark milestones. The other reason is the four Peak brothers, at my mother’s funeral, said, ‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this.’”
FAMILY FRIEND HENRY LOWENSTERN, who said he and his wife are new friends, having been acquainted with the couple only 30 years, said the Peaks “have an incredible ability to share their friendship. And Paul is very, very organized. I told my wife I want him to organize my funeral because he’s so good at it,” joked Lowenstern.
Paul Peak, however, isn’t planning a funeral anytime soon. He and Jane are both vivacious athletes who were recently awarded the title of “Iron Man,” for an endurance competition held at Vinson Hall. The event included walking, biking and swimming trials. Both the Peaks regularly attend the gym and have active social lives that keep them busy and young.
“They’re in fabulous health. They’re active, they travel and they enjoy their lives and their friends. The older I get, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to appreciate my parents and see them reflect on their lives,” said Martha Peak.
When Jane Peak reflects on the past, she remembers a lot of moving. On average the couple moved every three years and ultimately made 14 homes in nearly as many states during the first 30 years of their marriage.
As Paul Peak worked his way up to the position of captain in the Coast Guard, the family endured some trying times that created strong family bonds. Their first home, for example, was a Quonset hut at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, on land that now makes up the stadium. Jane Peak describes the meager home as “the four rooms plus bath, half Quonset was 20 by 24 feet in dimension with, of course, the curved walls that define a Quonset hut. You did not sit in a chair with your back against the wall, unless you wanted a very stiff neck the next day.”
And she wouldn’t change those memories for the world. “We’ve enjoyed life in the Coast Guard tremendously. We’ve lived in some wonderful places. It’s been an exciting life and a lot of fun.”
Their loyalty to government service and to the United States was something they passed down to their children. “A sense of country, and I don’t mean blindly, was one of their values. It’s definitely a family value,” said Martha Peak.
Sixty years of happily wedded life, according to Jane Peak, are easy to accomplish. “Each one just tries to do more than their share,” said Jane Peak of her secret to a happy marriage.