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Lost & Found

Legacies of the Long Gray Line

By Isabella Wolf, WPAOG staff

It is amazing how “mere” tangible objects take on a life of their own, connecting members of the Long Gray Line, their families, and others who believe in the values of West Point and military service.

Imagine replacing your dishwasher and finding a ring along the back wall in the now empty spot. It is clearly a class ring: unique, large, and with an impressive stone in the center and writing on the sides. Unbeknownst to you, you just found one of the previous homeowner’s most prized possessions, his West Point class ring. But finding such a ring is not as uncommon as one might originally suspect. Found West Point rings frequently make headlines in local papers. In fact, there is a volunteer operation run by West Point graduates solely dedicated to returning found class rings to their original owner or his or her family. But while small objects like rings can understandably become lost, larger objects are often found in unexpected places too: last fall, a saber was delivered to the wrong home by a moving company in California; and, in 2012, a cadet dress coat was returned to a graduate’s family after it was discovered on a beach in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Once returned, all found West Point objects become connections to those who receive these recovered items, not only members of the Long Gray Line but often the remaining living family members of the graduate’s family as well. For family members, the items remain as a permanent reminder of their loved one’s service and their connection to West Point.

Because modifications are rarely made to class rings, sabers, and cadet uniforms, these objects are readily identifiable to anyone familiar with the United States Military Academy. Although, if the finder has no relation to the Academy, they are often stumped on how to return the item to its original owner or the owner’s family. Many turn to the West Point Museum or the West Point Association of Graduates (WPAOG) to help them locate the original owner.

Photos left: Lawrence Guyer ’29 | Detail of engraving on the USMA saber

An example of this lost-and-found process occurred in January 2021 when the Schwandt family of Appleton, Wisconsin was cleaning out the last few objects in their father’s military memorabilia collection. Donald Schwandt was not a West Point graduate, nor was any member of his family, but he had a West Point cadet saber in his collection. Schwandt kept meticulous records for nearly every item in his collection, but nothing was left behind for the saber explaining how it came into his possession. The only clues the Schwandt family came from the engraving: “U.S.M.A.” on one edge of the blade and the name “Lawrence Guyer” on the other. A family friend assisting in the sale of the remaining items recommended that the family return the saber to the family of the original owner. They turned to WPAOG’s Alumni Services for help, and a quick search of WPAOG’s database found that Brigadier General Lawrence Guyer was a 1929 graduate who passed in away in 1984 in Florida, which added to the mystery of how the saber ended up in Wisconsin.

Finding a relative for a graduate who has been deceased for nearly four decades can be challenging but, locating Guyer’s family was a surprisingly simple task. Although Guyer had no known living next of kin, a search of WPAOG’s records found a connection to another family member. Brigadier General Guyer’s father was Colonel George Guyer, an 1891 graduate. Colonel Guyer’s family records were more robust, listing two sons, Lawrence and Robert, who were Academy graduates, two grandchildren who were also graduates, and several other family members. One of Colonel Guyer’s grandsons, Colonel Edward Burr (Class of June 1943), had recently passed away and his daughter, Reverend Shelley Burr Heller, was listed as the next of kin. With Brigadier General Guyer’s great-niece found, WPAOG staff coordinated with the two families to complete a return of the sword. After departing from Wisconsin, the saber made a brief return to West Point before being sent off to Washington state. After years of being separated from its original owner, the long-lost object has now been returned to a relative of Brigadier General Guyer.

Reunions like this highlight the importance of WPAOG’s careful tracking of West Point legacy families and their familial connections, which is used for more than just returning lost objects. For many West Point graduates, connections to other graduates symbolize a deeper link to their alma mater. These connections also represent a legacy for their family members. After receiving the saber, Revered Burr Heller was inspired to research her family genealogy. When asked if she was aware that she was related to graduates beyond her mother and father’s immediate family, she was surprised to find she had West Point connections that exceeded the three generations of which she was aware.

 

The Burr family’s ties to West Point began with Brigadier General Edward Burr, who graduated with the Class of 1882. His sons, Colonel William Burr and Lieutenant Colonel John Burr, both graduated with the Class of 1914. John Burr was father to aforementioned Edward Burr ’43JUN and grandfather to Reverend Burr Heller. William, John’s brother, married the daughter of Colonel George Goode, Class of 1880. Colonel Goode’s wife, Susie Goode, was the great-great-granddaughter of one of the first West Point graduates, Charles Gratiot, Class of 1806. Gratiot was one of five men appointed to USMA by President Thomas Jefferson, and his Cullum Number is 16, a far cry from the five-digit numbers assigned to today’s graduates. Gratiot’s impressive achievements include having a county in Michigan, as well as towns in both Michigan and Ohio, named after him.

In one afternoon, WPAOG employees were able to construct a family tree that included branches of which even the family did not know (page 38). Somehow a saber, long lost from its original owner, connected the Burr (Guyer) family to its West Point history and helped the Schwandt family bring closure—both families, hundreds of miles apart, grieving over the recent loss of a father.

These found West Point objects represent so much more than military service. They are connections to a line of fellow leaders and soldiers. They are the legacy left behind. For Daniel Schwandt, the military items his father collected represent a basement museum filled with items that Donald used to teach Daniel and his brothers about dedication to service and country. Donald viewed himself as a steward to these items rather than an owner and he may have been the perfect temporary caretaker for the saber.

In near-perfect timing, the saber was returned to the Burr (Guyer) family just in time for an important, but somber family event. In June 2021, the saber made its way to Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral of Colonel Edward Burr, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the saber remains with the Burr family. Reverend Shelley Burr Heller’s son, Captain Aaron Smith of the U.S. Army Reserve, has become its new steward and will pass the sword onto another Burr family member in the future. The sword is now more than a family heirloom representing more than a singular person: it symbolizes one graduate’s alma mater, a family’s dedication to preserving the integrity of veterans, and another family’s legacy, all while offering its new holder an amazing story to share.


Printed in West Point magazine, Summer 2021, all rights reserved.