This morning at a Rhode Island refinery, the donated class rings of 54 West Point graduates dating back to 1914 will be dropped in a crucible and melted into a solid gold bar. That 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 2017 and its distinguished predecessors.
Relatives of 23 donors will present the rings for melting in a heartwarming and solemn event that will take place at Pease & Curren's Warwick, R.I., headquarters. The Class of 2017 will receive their class rings in August of 2016 during a ceremony at West Point.
Now in its 16th year, 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.
Wrote Turner, "We all were proud to receive our ring, the symbol of membership in the Long Gray Line. 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."
Each year, a sample would be extracted from the ingot of melted rings and added to the melt of the following year. The "legacy sample" would ensure that gold from all ring melts going back to the inaugural ceremony in 2001 is included in the production of rings for the upcoming senior cadets.
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. Prior to this year's melt, 356 rings have been donated and melted, spanning the classes of 1896 to 1997. The oldest ring melted this year belonged to Major General Jens A. Doe, Class of 1914. He was the commanding officer of the 14th Machine Gun Battalion in World War I.
The names of all 54 West Point ring donors will be read aloud at the "Ring Melt" ceremony, which will be attended by a select group from the Class of 2017. The cadets will get to view the refining process and actually handle the solid gold bar in a symbolic demonstration of continuity with their brave predecessors, as seen in this photo from Pease & Curren's website.
Images via peaseandcurren.com; Screen captures via YouTube.com.