THE MATE-MATE SHOW: Service members get hitched courtesy of resorts, chapels and businesses during ‘Las Vegas Marries the Military’ day
Smartly decked out in snappy dress blues, the captain is the regal, picture-perfect embodiment of military decorum.
Then the Las Vegas native and Army veteran of six combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan slips on his Elvis shades. Grinning, he turns toward his bride and fellow Army captain, a veteran of tours in Kuwait and Iraq, resplendent in her vow-renewal gown.
Twelve years of marriage and two children later after they first exchanged vows, Robert Coombs and Rachel Brune then turn together toward the sparkly-white-jump-suited officiant.
“Robert,” begins the ordained minister/faux-Elvis, guitar slung over his shoulder. “Please tell her: I promise to always Love You Tender and never leave you at Heartbreak Hotel. I will never have a Suspicious Mind. And from this day I promise to be your Hunka-Hunka Burning Love.”
“Rachel, please tell him: I promise to take you as my Hunka-Hunka Burning Love and always Love You Tender and never Return to Sender. I will never step on your Blue Suede Shoes or treat you like a Hound Dog. For you will always be my loving Teddy Bear.”
Family and friends whoop and shout for the the initial beneficiaries of “Las Vegas Marries the Military,” a day of free, donation-supported marriage/renewal ceremonies and services for those dedicated to protecting our freedoms.
Later, farther down the Strip from the action at Graceland Wedding Chapel, a Henderson couple grasp hands, facing each other in the chapel at Planet Hollywood – the 70-something retired Marine Corps sergeant/Vietnam vet/ Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient, and his 70-something just-about-to-be bride.
Two widowed seniors — he after 20 years of marriage, she after 50 years — they stand before the pastor, the only people in the room. That’s just how they want it. Alone with each other, celebrating love in a second act.
“Dolores and John, you have come here together because out of 7 billion people on the planet you have somehow found one another,” says Pastor Jason Gray, before a podium draped with an American flag, at the couple’s request. “You became best friends and have fallen in love. Is it your wish today to become man and wife?”
“This is not too late. I love you very much,” John Ryan says simply to his betrothed.
“Likewise,” says Dolores Gee to the gentleman friends introduced her to, over coffee at Starbucks. “I love you, too. You are very special. I’m so glad I found you and that we found each other.”
They are declared husband and wife. He kisses his bride. And we mean really kisses her.
Welcome to a day of love and honor.
“We want to show the military and our veterans our appreciation. What better match than giving them the wedding of their dreams in the Wedding Capital of the World?” says Clark County Clerk Lynn Marie Goya, who oversees the county Marriage License Bureau. Along with the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce, Goya coordinated this second annual event for 11 selected couples from Las Vegas and around the country.
“When people come here to get married, they stay in hotels, they eat in restaurants, they shop. The wedding community is bigger than a wedding chapel. We reached out to them and said we’d like to do this again, and they offered goods and services and rooms and baskets of goodies for them. It is a very generous town. Nobody does hospitality better than Las Vegas.”
Beyond Graceland Chapel and Planet Hollywood, ceremonies were also gifted to vets at Lakeside Weddings, Bellagio’s Terraza di Sogno, Vegas Weddings, The Wedding Salon at Wynn Las Vegas, Chapel of the Flowers, The Chapel at Excalibur, The Wedding Chapels at Aria, Paris Las Vegas and Caesars Palace.
Gussying-up perks — i.e., hair, makeup and other primping necessities — were donated by Blo-Blow Dry Bar, Creative Bridal Wear, Downtown Tux and Gown, Stevee Danielle Hair & Makeup and many more. And couples were treated to hotel stays at, among others: Aria, Caesars Palace, Home2 Suites by Hilton, Baymont Inn and Suites, Hilton Garden-Inn South Strip, and Residence Inn Marriott. (See a complete list of contributing vendors here.)
“We love love, and it was more than we imagined it could be,” says Rachael Campos, who wed active-duty Sgt. Andrew Parker of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, the two Las Vegans taking the plunge within the plush surroundings at Lakeside Weddings. “The venue was gorgeous outside by the lake and all the flowers and cake. When we were thinking about planning our wedding on our own time, we didn’t think we’d be able to have a wedding like that.”
Added her husband: “We as veterans appreciate what the community does for us, in return for our service. We are grateful.”
After 43 years of marriage, Air Force veteran Capt. Hugo Heyns and his wife, Brenda, selected Paris Las Vegas as the spot to renew their vows after driving in from New Mexico. “I got emotional and I didn’t think I would after the first time,” she says. Quipped her spouse: “The first time my knees were knocking and the second time she got emotional. Fair play!”
Yet the generosity from the tourism community and the county did leave him, if not choked up, then certainly thankful. “Doing it for military families is spectacular,” he added. “It’s something Las Vegas should be well proud of.”
Different couples desired different ceremonies. Hitched by Elvis? These two couldn’t resist. “It’s Vegas!” say Brune and Coombs, virtually in unison, though the pair emphasized that, given deployments around the world that frequently separate them, maintaining military marriages can be daunting.
“Being in the military is a choice but sometimes it’s a challenging choice,” Brune says. “It’s so great that Las Vegas is supporting military families, and we are having a really great time.”
Having been born and raised in Las Vegas, Coombs is especially touched by the gesture. “This is my hometown doing hometown things,” he says. “Every one of my peers in the military from Las Vegas knows Las Vegas has always been supportive. I mean, it’s the Battle Born State.”
This day also earned a hearty Thank you vuuuury much! from the man who married them. “I think it’s harder to be in the military now because of what we do around the world,” says Brendan Paul, aka Elvis, who co-owns Graceland Chapel and crooned “Love Me Tender” to the tender twosome.
“You have to say, ‘Hey, these people signed up for whatever comes their way.’ They say, ‘I’m in.’ It’s important to say, ‘Hats off — thank you!’”
Gently joshing around after the Planet Hollywood nuptials — preceded by his then-fiancee lovingly combing the remaining tufts of hair on his head — Ryan recalls how their marriage came about after he made his pitch to her in October.
“I told her to make up her mind by January when I offered to marry her,” he says, poker-faced but with a definite twinkle.
“He OFFERED?” Dolores says with a guffaw, turning toward him. “You want to rephrase that?” Yet she, too, was a grateful new wife on this special day.
“They really cared,” she says about the gift to veterans and their families from local business and the county. “We don’t feel like we’re in our 70s. We feel like we’re in our 30s. Well, maybe our 40s. But divine intervention brought us together, and here we are.”
And then, there they went, to join 10 other couples at the Bootlegger Bistro, which provided its Copa room for a festive group reception to bring the day to a warm, affectionate end.
As Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” flowed from the sound system, all the happy couples congregated near the front of the hall and began swaying, the scene dotted with pretty gowns and crisp uniforms.
Amid smiles and adoring glances, yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s heroes shared the dance floor:
“I can be your hero, baby / I can kiss away the pain / I will stand by you forever / You can take my breath away.”
And thank you for your service.