Ring Melt for Class of 2019

Categories: Ring Memorial Program, Grad News
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A Long Gray Line Tradition Continues for the Class of 2019

Right from the get-go, the West Point Association of Graduates’ Ring Melt, the signature event of WPOAG’s Class Ring Memorial Program, was meant to be a tradition. Ron Turner ’58 said as much when he proposed the idea of a “Memorial Ring Program” in the May/June 1999 edition of ASSEMBLY magazine, writing, “…we need a program whereby graduates may bequeath (or graduates’ descendants may donate) West Point class rings for the specific purpose of incorporating the gold into the class rings of future graduates.” Demonstrating further that he had a long-term “tradition” in mind when he proposed his idea, Turner recommended retaining some gold after each melt so that it shavings could be placed in the following year’s melt, thus ensuring each year’s “Memorial Gold ingot…would contain some of every ring donated.” Having completed its 18th year in 2018 with a record number of rings (69), the Ring Melt tradition is going strong and may one day fulfill Turner’s vision of “a time when West Point rings will be composed entirely of Memorial Gold.”

Only five people—three from the Academy, one from WPAOG, and Turner—were on hand to witness the melting of 29 rings and portions of two others to begin Ring Melt tradition on November 20, 2000 for the Bicentennial Class of 2002. Attendance at the 2018 Ring Melt for the Class of 2019 set a record, included 26 families representing ring donors, five members of the Academy (including Commandant of Cadets BG Steven Gilland ’90), 15 cadets, and nine representatives from WPAOG. With the record number of rings melted this year, the program total to date is now 520 rings. The total includes rings from 10 four-star generals, one Medal of Honor recipient, one U.S. Congressman, one member of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, and one ring that has been in space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. The oldest ring donated during the program’s 18 years belonged to Colonel Percy Myers Kessler, Class of 1896, who fought in the Philippines Insurrection, and the newest ring, from the Class of 1997, came from an anonymous donor. When the Class of 2019 dons their rings in August later this year, the gold on their fingers will have been worn in battles during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and the War on Terror.

While the above quantifications are impressive, it is the intangibles that define the rings and give their gold meaning to the next generation of the Long Gray Line. “My father always wore his ring,” said Ms. MaryBeth Bainbridge, daughter of Mr. Thomas S. Bainbridge ’57. “Given that his birthstone was a diamond, he even wore his West Point ring as his wedding band, it meant that much to him.”

When placing his father’s ring in the crucible, Samuel H. Johnson ’82, son of COL Charles R. Johnson, told the cadets from the Class of 2019 in attendance, “My father wore this ring proudly since the day he got it, and, if you look closely at the ring, you can no longer see the words, ‘Duty-Honor-Country”; but I believe that is because he willed those concepts into his heart.”

Johnson’s words and the words and presence of the record number of families in attendance were not lost on the members of the Class of 2019. “My perspective on the significance of this event changed when I heard the testimony from the family members of the donors,” said CDT Tony Smith, President of the Class of 2019. “When they placed their loved one’s rings in the crucible, they demonstrated the indelible link that each member of the Long Gray Line shares, and their stories reinforced that these rings represent more than just precious metal; above all these rings signify a long line of commitment to ideas, the ideas of Duty, Honor, Country.”

“As cadets watch this, they start to see where they fall in with the Long Gray Line,” said BG Steven Gilland ’90, “and when they don their rings in August, they will recognize in them what the graduates who have come before have done in exemplifying the values of Duty, Honor, Country.”

COL (R) KC Brown, a member of the Class of 1969, the 50-Year Affiliation Class to the Class of 2019, agrees. “Knowing that there is gold in their rings that dates back more than 100 years will encourage them to stay close to their alma mater and its motto over the years,” he said.

His classmate Michael McGovern, the President of the Class of 1969, said that the Ring Melt has made the rings for the Class of 2019 all the more special. “Compared to our rings, their rings will be special because there is a tangible bond in the metal.” Nine rings, the largest class group in this year’s Ring Melt, came from USMA 1969, which is a record from any one class in a given year.

When Turner proposed the idea of a “Ring Memorial Program” in 1999, he wrote, “Hopefully, this program will make West Point class rings of the future even more meaningful than those of the past.” If the testimony of those who participated in the 2018 Ring Melt is any indication, Turner’s wish has come true 18 times over, and West Point, which invented the concept of a “class ring” in 1835, has reformed a tradition for the next generation.

See photos of the event.

Class of 2019 Ring Memorial Donor Listing

1916 BG Dwight F. Johns
1917 Mr. Ferdinand Von Kummer
1919 BG Lester D Flory
1919 COL Virgil F Shaw
1922 COL Frederick S. Lee
1924 LTC Henry S. Jernigan
1936 COL Charles H. Waters
1937 COL Edgar J. Ingmire
1938 COL James E. Mrazek
1939 COL Richard T. Bowie
1940 COL Scott M. Case
1943Jan COL Howard D. Elliott
1944 COL William J. Nelson
1944 COL Edward W. Samuell Jr.
1946 COL George L. Dennett
1946 COL Harold W. Horne
1946 COL Samuel R Martin
1946 CPT Leon B. Musser
1947 Mr. James E. Colburn
1949 COL Boyde W. Allen Jr.
1949 COL John L Carr
1949 Mr. Albert H. Goering
1949 Mr. David Krimendahl
1949 Mr. Winston G. Walker
1950 LTC Thomas M. Barry Jr.
1950 COL Lawrence W. Jackley
1950 MAJ William R. Lamdin
1951 COL J. Godfrey Crowe
1951 1LT Thomas B. Horgan
1951 LTC Donald A. Van Matre
1952 COL Michael A. Boos
1952 Mr. Gordon M. Hahn Sr
1953 LTC O. Kirk Ehlers
1953 LTC Edward T. Lynch Jr.
1953 COL Clarence E. Talley
1954 COL Newell E. Vinson
1954 Mr. Samuel P. Walker III
1955 COL Charles R. Johnson
1957 Mr. Thomas S. Bainbridge
1957 COL Joseph W. House
1958 Mr. Daniel E. Carter
1958 COL William H. Dunning
1958 BG William G. Ganey
1958 Mr. Gordon L. Goodman
1958 Mr. Donald W. Johnson
1958 LTC Robert W. Meals
1958 COL Joseph A. Shea
1959 LTC Edward N. Laughlin
1960 Mr. Joseph E. Fortier
1960 Mr. Robert H. Mills
1962 Dr. Seth J. Hudak
1962 LTC Charles S. Merriam II
1962 LTC Benjamin R. Wilkerson
1965 Mr. Anthony H. Clay
1968 CPT John T. Martin III
1969 MAJ George W. Albrecht
1969 LTC Norman A. Brown
1969 COL Robin R. Cababa
1969 LTC George C. Fogle Jr.
1969 LTC Arthur P. Ireland Jr.
1969 2LT Thomas G. Lowry
1969 Mr. Jerry C. Mailey
1969 Mr. Ralph J. Moeller
1969 Mr. Dennis W. Tighe
1970 MAJ John C. McDugald
1975 Mr. Randall C. Robertson
1976 LTC Eric A. Brewner
1983 Mr. Alan J. Villandre
1987 LTC Mark R. Bliese

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Ring Memorial Program

In 1999, LTC(R) Ron Turner ’58 submitted an article with the suggestion that “We, as graduates of West Point, should establish a Memorial Class Ring Program… whereby graduates may bequeath (or graduates’ descendants may donate) West Point class rings for the specific purpose of incorporating the gold into the class rings of future graduates.” Turner’s idea became a reality as 31 rings were melted at the Herff Jones company, and the Class of 2002 became the first to receive the gold from this historic undertaking in their rings. A small portion of each year’s gold ingot is preserved and added to the rings that are being melted for the following year’s Ring Melt. The gold shavings are known as the Legacy Gold because it contains gold from every ring that has been donated over the years.

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