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On February 27, cadets from West Point's Class of 2018 will honor the families of U.S. Military Academy graduates dating back to 1924 as part of a symbolic and solemn ceremony called the "Ring Melt."
During the event at Pease & Curren's headquarters in Warwick, R.I., the donated class rings of 41 West Point graduates — many of whom have passed away — will be dropped in a crucible along with a "legacy sample" of gold from the 410 previously donated rings.
The resulting ingot will be merged with new gold to create the class rings for the current cadets, symbolically and physically reaffirming the bond between the West Point Class of 2018 and the Long Gray Line of West Point graduates. The U.S. Military Academy was founded in 1802, and the legacy sample contains precious metal from rings spanning the classes of 1896 to 1997.
This is the 17th consecutive year that cadets have been invited to the Pease & Curren refinery to witness the Ring Melt.
Many of the families of the donors will be on hand to present the rings for melting. Before the rings are melted, each one will be displayed along with a bio of the donor. Then, one by one, the names of all 41 donors will be read aloud and a member of the donor's family will take the ring and place it in the crucible. The rings are then melted in a furnace and the liquid metal is poured into the form, creating an ingot.
The cleaned and cooled ingot is then passed around from cadet to cadet, further demonstrating continuity of the current class with the ones that came before it.
Pease & Curren reports that one of the rings donated this year belonged to Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin, Class of 1929. Nicknamed “Jumpin’ Jim,” Gavin was the third Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II and was the only American general officer to make four combat jumps in the war.
Another ring in the melt was donated by Thomas H. Paprocki, USMA Class of 1954. Paprocki’s granddaughter, Cadet Amy Johnston, is a member of the Class of 2018.
The Ring Melt was conceived by retired Lt. Col. Ron Turner, Class of 1958. He proposed that donations of class rings would be collected from West Point alumni and their descendants.
“We all were proud to receive our ring, the symbol of membership in the Long Gray Line," Turner wrote. "Perhaps we would have been even prouder had our new class rings included traces of the gold from rings of past graduates — some of whom served many years before we, our parents, or even our grandparents were born.”
West Point is credited with originating the concept of the class ring in 1835, as West Point became the first American university to honor its senior class with a treasured keepsake of gold.
Credits: Cadets class ring photo via Flickr by John Pellino/USMA DPTMS VI Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0; Screen captures via YouTube.com.