By Brandon O'Connor, Pointer View Assistant EditorJanuary 31, 2019
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Worn smooth, the crass mass of brass bears the scars of a long life. The crest that once adorned the side has long since disappeared as have the words etched around the stone.
Lying on a placard beside the name of its owner and his cadet photo, the class ring is a testament to the life its wearer lived. Now, it is time for the ring to begin a new journey, its worn edges melted away and the gold used to craft rings that will carry the Class of 2020 through their lives.
The West Point Association of Graduates hosted its annual Ring Melt Ceremony Jan. 25 where class rings from old grads living and deceased were donated and melted down into a gold brick that is used as part of the gold to craft the next classes rings.
Fifty-five rings were donated this year and the gold will be used to craft the rings for the Class of 2020, which they will receive Ring Weekend in August.
"This ceremony was surreal," Class of 2020 Cadet Emma Powless said. "I really wish the whole Class of 2020 could have seen what went into it and how it was executed. I think it is important to know what goes into our rings and how much it means to people to have their rings go into our classes'. I think, for the most part, people understand the meaning of a class ring, but I think today ties it all together and you get to see the physical representation of what is going into them."
The ring melt has occurred every year since 2001, but this year marked the first time it has been held at the U.S. Military Academy. The ceremony started at Eisenhower Hall where either a representative from the family donating the ring or someone on the family's behalf placed the ring into a crucible. A few ounces of legacy gold, which was extracted from last year's melt, was also included which ties together each of the 18 melts that have occurred. The rings were then taken to be melted.
The rings were placed into the kiln one by one along with the legacy gold. It takes a temperature of nearly 2,000 degrees to melt gold, but in a moment of happenstance the kiln heated to exactly 2,020 degrees right before the crucible was removed from the heat and the liquid gold was poured into a brick.
The rings donated this year included 10 from members of the 50-year affiliated class, the U.S. Military Academy Class of 1970, and eight that belonged to generals.
"My dad passed away in 2012 and West Point meant a lot to him," Carolyn Wilkins-Davis, who donated the ring of her dad retired Lt. Col. Lawrence B. Wilkins, USMA Class of 1970, said. "He had a lot of pride and we hope to have his ring give the pride to the Class of 2020 as well. It was very emotional. It is something I grew up with and he wore it every single day of his life. You could tell it was extremely worn down and something he loved dearly. Putting that part of him into something larger was beautiful."
The oldest ring donated this year belonged to retired Col. Raymond P. Campbell, USMA Class of 1916, which was also worn for many years by his son R.P. Campbell Jr., USMA Class of 1941, after he lost his own ring.
The ring of the youngest donor belonged to retired Lt. Col. Richard L. French, USMA Class of 1986, who chose to donate his own ring as his son is a Class of 2020 cadet.
There were also four rings donated by living donors including William Arcuri, USMA Class of 1970, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his aircraft was shot down in 1972. He spent two months as a prisoner in Hanoi before being released.
"The last time I wore it (my class ring) was when I was in Vietnam," Arcuri said. "I took it off, I didn't fly with any rings, and after I got shot down it was sent back to my wife with all my stuff…I showed my wife and boys the video of the ring melt and they all thought it was a great idea. Being a 50th affiliation, I saved it for the Class of 2020. It is a privilege to see that the legacy of my ring will go on."
To date, 575 rings have been donated and melted as part of the ring melt program. During this year's melt, a small sample of the gold was extracted and set aside to it can be used in next year as part of the Class of 2021's ring melt.
"For them to give up the one thing that connects them to their class after all these years to our ring melt, it really shows you the meaning of the Long Gray Line and the dedication they have to West Point, our class and our country," Powless said.