Billy wore a rented tux, smoked his menthols nervously and sucked on a 64-ounce cup of water. Diana wore a borrowed wedding dress, a double strand of pearls and fussed over her invalid father, who had been married on the same day 54 years ago.

The couple stood together arm in arm under the nursing home's wooden awning, pledged their mutual love over the din of the air conditioner and fed each other cake from disposable plates.

Afterward, the groom leaned over the old man with the white hair and beard sitting in the wheelchair and said in his gruff voice: "I'll take care of her, I promise."

There were a lot of tears yesterday at the HCR-ManorCare nursing home in Wheaton as Diana Teresa Ressler and William John Bowser were married in the presence of her father--on the same day he and his wife had wed in Rome just after World War II.

Billy, 38, and Diana, 48, had wanted it that way. Ressler's Italian mother, Teresa, a war bride who had met her GI father over a chocolate bar, had died last month. And her father, John Stargel, 73, had suffered a stroke and was in precarious health.

Her father couldn't travel, and the couple feared he might not last for a full-blown formal wedding months from now.

"Bill wanted us to marry in front of Dad before Dad passed away," Ressler said as she waited in the sun in her cream-colored gown for the ceremony to begin. "And it's just kind of sentimental for us to be married on their wedding day. We couldn't find any other way to give my dad the pleasure. He loves Bill to death."

So yesterday, on a fine late summer morning, Bowser, Ressler and their families gathered with "Pop" at the edge of the nursing home's grassy quadrangle. It was Bowser's first marriage and Ressler's third. She was divorced from her first husband and widowed by her second.

Music was provided by Deena Glass, the home's activities director, who, with hands clasped, sang, "The Twelfth of Never." The Rev. Elaine S. Banks officiated. When she asked, "Who gives this woman?" there was a moment of confusion, then Ressler's son, Dustin, 21, shyly raised his hand.

Bowser and Ressler, who live together in Germantown, met about a year and a half ago, in a Rockville club called the Back Street Cafe, where both had gone to see a local rock band called Red Line. They were introduced by the band leader between sets and were instantly smitten.

"She had me from hello," said Bowser, a plumber, quoting a line from a movie. "I'm so happy. She is the love of my life."

"I'm ecstatic," said Ressler, an office manager for a mechanical contracting company. "Since I've met Bill he's changed my whole life. I had kind of a hard time before. He's just changed my whole world. We're like twins. The way we connect with each other, you don't find that too often."

Banks performed a rich ceremony, raising her voice over the air conditioner and closing with this admonition: "Hold fast to this life."

As the newly married couple walked back along the sidewalk, the train of her gown trailing on the concrete, a row of nursing home residents quietly applauded from wheelchairs. Then on a table beneath an outdoor umbrella, the bride removed the clear plastic top covering a small wedding cake.

She picked up a cake knife and called, "Bill, come here, we have to do this together."