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Ring Melt connects past graduates with USMA Class of 2024
US Army | Jan. 18, 2023
A remarkable amalgamation of the spoken word, video and reading material highlighted the narrative of the tangible connection between past graduates of the U.S. Military Academy and the current members of the Corps of Cadets that is bonded and forged together by a band of gold. It is within that gold those generations of the Long Gray Line meld to unite with the men and women who currently walk the hallowed grounds of the Hudson Valley fortress.
It all came together at the 23rd annual West Point Association of Graduates’ Ring Melt, sponsored by the USMA Class of 1966, Friday at Crest Hall on West Point. Sixty-seven rings were donated and melted into a gold ingot that will be included into the Class of 2024 and future class rings.
This year’s donated rings represented the gamut of the Classes of 1924 to 2006, from a combination of deceased and living donors, with 11 rings from the 50-year affiliate class, the Class of 1974, and one ring from the 100-year affiliate class, the Class of 1924.
The program, the Class Ring Memorial Program, has grown by leaps and bounds since its origins during the academy’s Bicentennial year when it started from an idea by USMA Class of 1958 graduate, retired Lt. Col. Ron Turner, and led to 31 rings initially donated for the first melt in November 2000 for the Class of 2002 to be forever bonded with its predecessors. It is now a very popular program among graduates that AOG has cultivated over the ensuing 23 years.
“I think it is a testament to (former AOG director of class services) Tony Ferraiuolo who started this program,” said Debbie Edelen, AOG director of class services and USMA Class of 1992 graduate. “It’s a testament to the program that continues to grow as more people hear about it and through word of mouth. The 50-year affiliate donated 11 rings, which is a large number in one year for a class, and I think that shows the strength of the 50-year affiliation to the cadet class they are affiliated with and that those graduates think it is important enough to want their rings represented in the class rings coming up.”
After Friday’s melt, the donated ring count is at 807 rings total over 23 years across the spectrum of classes ranging from 1896 to 2006. The ceremony, which started modestly in Rhode Island in 2000 at the company that performed the first few melts, has now blossomed to an event where families come and cadets participate in to honor generations of graduates at the academy.
“We had record numbers from the donor families who attended this year,” Edelen said. “It shows what a tribute it is to the program and the importance that it has for families because like many of the families said today, they feel this is where their loved ones’ rings belong — going back into the Long Gray Line.
“It’s not just a phrase, the Long Gray Line, it is a long-standing connection,” she added. “It’s pretty much tied together by Duty, Honor, Country and that selfless service that ties us all together.”
To make it all come together seamlessly, it took a village to make it succeed, which included putting the word out by various social media means and communication through other programs such as the Memorial Support Program.
Edelen also credits not only the many people at AOG for its work, but also the video team from Public Affairs, the Directorate of Cadet Activities for allowing the use of Crest Hall, the USMA leadership team of the superintendent, commandant and the dean who participated and the cadets.
“The fact that (the leadership team) was here shows how important it is to them,” Edelen said. “I’m excited to play just a small role on this big team and just pull it all together, and I’m very honored to play a part in it.”
Edelen, who took over as director of class services about two months ago, gave much kudos to her predecessor, Cathy Kilner, for the work she did prior to and after she left the position to help make the event run as smoothly as possible.
“When you talk about teamwork, Cathy moved on to another job, but she spent a lot of time just making sure that during my transition (into the job) this was going to go well,” Edelen said. “She offered a lot of time to coach me along with all the intricacies and making sure that we hit all the marks that we needed to be able to pull off this important ceremony.”
The ceremony offered its fair share of laughter and smiles through family member orations, but it also brought a tone of solemn when reflecting on a group like the Class of 1966, who sponsored the event this year, who had 29 classmates die during the Vietnam War. One member of the class had his ring donated, retired Lt. Gen. David Kelley.
For someone like Edelen, it was emotional for many reasons as it was a reminder of her dad, David Vann, USMA Class of 1965, and it came to the forefront as one of his classmates’ rings was donated, retired Col. Henry Dermody Jr.
“I have to admit I got a little emotional, I knew (Dermody) … and when I worked at West Point (years ago) I talked with him all the time, however, I didn’t know that he had passed,” Edelen said. “Now, his grandson (Class of 2024 Cadet Nathan Lampshire) is here, and to hear his grandson talk about how his grandfather is the epitome of what he holds West Point to be, the legacy and he said he really wants to be like him.
“It was really special to be a part of a ring melt and actually have one of those rings belong to somebody who is so special to me and special to his class,” she added, “and special to the Long Gray Line because he did a lot to support West Point.”
As Edelen eloquently said, the ring ceremony is “the continuity of the West Point Family,” and once all the 67 current rings and some shavings from previous years were added to the crucible to be melted into the gold ingot, the new recipients and future ring bearers were excited to have a piece of history with them for their upcoming careers.
“It was incredibly special with metal from rings from the 19th century amongst that gold and to be a part of a tradition that is so rich, it means so much to so many people and their families, too,” said Class of 2024 Cadet and Class President Thomas Ward. “To have the opportunity to continue a legacy dedicated to service and honorable leadership, and being leaders of character that our country needs for our democracy to survive, it is a heavy burden, but it is something we all assume with great pride and honor.”
Ward had a speaking part during the ceremony while also introducing some of the donors and placed the gold shavings of previous rings into the crucible before it headed to Bartlett Hall where the rings were melted down before the return back to Crest Hall for the final part of the ceremony. His piece in the ceremony was an extraordinary experience for him.
“I remember writing in my admissions essay to West Point about dreaming of looking out over the Hudson River and knowing I’m a part of the Long Gray Line, and today I feel that and I’m grateful for that,” Ward said. “I’m grateful to know that because of the sacrifices and successes of those who have come before us and have paid so many costs, and, sometimes the ultimate costs, I am able to be here to continue the tradition that began many years ago.”
One of the things Ward reflected on is not only the lineage that leads to his class but what it will look like in the years ahead at the possibility of his ring being a part of the Class of 2074 and other future classes.
“Sitting in my seat, I was thinking about that. I thought about how much of a privilege it is … to have the opportunity to give my West Point class ring back to a group of individuals 50 years from now who are going to continue the same thing that I am here to continue today,” Ward, who hopes to one day branch Infantry, said. “I would love to be a part of the ring donation in a ceremony years from now with the hopes of inspiring others to continue West Point traditions of being part of the great things that our successors will do.”
When talking about how the ceremony came about to get to Friday’s event, one of the people he talked glowingly of was Class of 2024 Cadet and the Class Ring and Crest Chairman, Sayana Lopes.
“(Lopes) is the backbone of this, all credit goes to her — she’s been working on this since she started designing the crest plebe year, and she is absolutely incredible,” Ward said. “She’s the key reason that the Long Gray Line is going to be continued through the rings of the donors and for my class.”
Lopes said her role as the ring and crest chair began by forming the ring/crest committee to get opinions from all the companies in the class to what the crest will look like. It progressed with working with a graphic designer and led to the crest unveiling at the Class of 2024’s Plebe-Parent Weekend in 2021. Then it all leads to the Ring Melt the day before their 500th Night Weekend event, which happened Saturday.
“It has been a big undertaking with everyone involved and I think it’s been a really good opportunity for the ring class committee to see the significance of the Long Gray Line outside of West Point,” Lopes said. “It is very hard to see what that means when you are in the thick of it and in the middle of going from class to class and busy for the past three years, so taking a step back and realizing what it means to be from West Point — I think it is really cool for us.”
For Lopes, it meant a lot to be a part of the ceremony because, “it’s honoring the legacy of everyone who came before us.” She is a prior service cadet who was a 35 Foxtrot, Intell Analyst, and understands that being in the Army is “you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”
“It is so meaningful and respecting the sacrifices the old grads have made is really humbling to be a part of and experience that (at the ceremony),” Lopes, who hopes to branch one of Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Military Intelligence or Infantry, said.
Once the Jostens Ring Company make the rings, the rings will forever bond them to previous grads.
In August, the emotions will be amplified as the Ring Ceremony takes place for the Class of 2024. The excitement is brewing for that day to come.
“I’m really excited and I know that everyone in our class is really excited … but I don’t think we’re going to realize how special until we put on our rings,” Lopes said.
Ward can’t wait for the moment to put on his ring and what it will mean to him symbolically for his future and those grads who will live on within his ring.
“We’re honored that once we receive our rings in August that we’ll be able to carry on their legacies each day with us,” Ward said. “It will be symbolic … to whom I aspire to be and someone who is dedicated to honorable service and leadership.
“It’s looking to serve our country and improve the lives of freedom-loving citizens, not just in America but throughout the world,” he concluded. “The ring is going to symbolize not just my accomplishments or achievements here, but the dreams I have for myself, our country, and the legacy that’s been handed down through that.”