Cadet Valentina Vincent ’22 never met her grandfather, Harvey Jokinen, a Class of 1972 West Point graduate whose ring was a part of this year’s annual Ring Melt. Her mother was only three years old when he was killed in a helicopter crash while serving in Germany. Anytime Vincent asks her grandmother about Jokinen, she immediately cries. She says that he was a saint, and his sisters believe that he was the most amazing man to ever be placed on the earth.
“He had grit and determination to fight through adversity without complaint, the kind of guy you hope is on your team,” Vincent said. “I wish I could have met my grandfather, but I feel his presence alongside me at West Point daily.”
Vincent and her Class of 2022 classmates placed Jokinen’s ring, along with 51 other donated West Point class rings, into a crucible to be melted at the Ring Memorial Ceremony, held on February 12 at West Point. They also placed legacy gold into the crucible. These shavings, taken from the gold ingot of each melt, contain gold from every Ring Melt since the inaugural event for the Class of 2002. This gold from the donated rings and the legacy gold will be incorporated into the class rings for members of the Class of 2022. This means Vincent’s ring will have the same gold that her grandfather once wore, ensuring that the Long Gray Line stays tangibly connected from class to class and generation to generation.
“I will be able to look down at my ring and see him in it,” Vincent said. “He will now be physically with me wherever I go.”
Although living ring donors, donor family members, and other graduates were unable to attend the ceremony in person this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Point Association of Graduates made sure that this tradition continued in a safe and meaningful way.
The event was live-streamed online from Crest Hall in Eisenhower Hall, with over 400 people attending virtually. Cadets placed rings into the crucible on behalf of families and living ring donors, and several donor families sent in videos that were shown during the ceremony.
“Mike Peffers was one of my closest friends since we were plebes together in Company B-1,” Colonel Dean Stodter ’82 (Retired) said about ring donor Colonel Michael J. Peffers ’82 in a recorded remark. “If Mike could send you a message from the ranks of the Ghostly Assemblage of the Long Gray Line, it would be this: ‘You will learn much at West Point, but what really gets embedded in our souls are the values in our motto and the strong, loyal bonds between classmates.’” According to Stodter, Peffers cherished the men and women of the Class of 1982 (“The Select Few”) and he would urge the members of the Class of 2022 (“For the Many Stand the Few”) to always treasure the lifelong friendships being formed now at West Point. “Wear [your rings] with pride, knowing that you grip hands with a loyal soldier who loved West Point and dedicated his life to Duty, Honor, Country,” said Stodter.
While cadets and attendees enjoyed a luncheon in the ballroom of Eisenhower Hall, Class Ring and Crest Chair Cadet Claire Jones ’22 and others transported the 52 donated class rings to Bartlett Hall, where they were melted into a single bar by a technician from Herff Jones, the company that will be making the Class of 2022’s rings. “To be able to hold the gold bar and be a part of the process, it’s really cool to see that physical representation of the connection we have to the old graduates now,” Jones said.
Before presenting the freshly made gold bar, which weighed in at just over three pounds, to a representative from the Herff Jones Ring Company, Class President Cadet Xavier Williams ’22 addressed his classmates and the families of the ring donors, saying: “Like many of you, this will be the first ring that I will wear, but in it dwells hundreds of smiles, thousands of stories, and infinite meaning—for this ring shares the gold of revolutionary leaders, firm teachers, respected warriors, beloved parents, and even joyous children. Today, in the spirit of willing devotion to Duty, Honor, and Country we are now eternally linked, no longer separated by space and time to thousands of individuals that have also made this vow. Your sacrifice of this ring donation is a precious gift to our class, and we do not take it for granted.”
In total, 669 West Point class rings have been donated to the Class Ring Memorial Program to date, including 18 from the Class of 1972, the Class of 2022’s 50-Year Affiliation Class. The oldest ring at this year’s Ring Melt came from Lieutenant Colonel John D. Miley, Class of 1916, and the youngest ring came from Mr. Lloyd M. “Trey” McClure ’90.