Wednesday, December 3, 2008
A Sad Story That Makes Me Proud
I debated with myself for a number of days about whether I should post this story on my blog. It's such a compelling story and it makes me so proud that I decided to go ahead and tell you about it.
If you are a reader of this blog you can see that I attended a military college in South Carolina. This college is rich in history and it's graduates have a bond between themselves which is stronger than most other academic institutions. Think "Band of Brothers" here. The bond is particularly strong between members of the same graduating class. Much of this is due to the military nature of the school.
The Citadel has provided men and women for the armed forces since before the Civil War. Citadel graduates have died in defense of their country in every armed conflict since the Civil War as well. Many graduates make the military a career and have risen to the heights of military leadership. At least 75 graduates perished in the Vietnam War and to date 13 have been killed in the Iraq/Afghanistan War. That might not sound like a lot, but the student body at The Citadel numbers only 2000 cadets at a maximum.
Where ever they go, the most visible symbol of a Citadel graduate is the ring they wear. The ring has been standardized over the years and the only thing that changes from year to year is the class year imprinted on the face of the ring. The picture at the top of this post is the ring for the Class of 2007. My ring looks the same except it is quite worn and has a 69 instead of an 07.
My ring is worn for several reasons. First I wear it every day, all day. The only time it leaves my hand is in situations where it might be lost....when working in cold water for instance. Other than that it stays on my hand 24 hours a day. Secondly this ring had one of the highest gold contents of any class ring made in the country. That makes the metal of the ring softer and more subject to wear. My ring means a lot to me. If I had to choose, I would have it over the diploma that hangs on my wall.
To most Citadel graduates their ring is a very big deal. This is a solemn thing and we do not like to see the ring abused or to travel outside the circle of graduates. To the Class of 1969 it is definitely a big deal. My class started out with over 800 students. We graduated between 300-400. This was at the height of the Vietnam War and probably 90 percent of us went into the military after graduation. Of that number I'm guessing 75 percent of us served in Vietnam. About 10 of us paid the ultimate price. Many, many more came home wounded physically or emotionally. To us the ring is a unifying thing. It represents the soul of who we are and what we stand for.
I said earlier, think Band of Brothers, and that is appropriate. About 150 members of the Class of 1969 participate in a online Yahoo Group restricted to only our classmates. After forty years we post MANY messages every day and keep up with one another.
About two weeks ago one of our classmates reported that a Class of 1969 Citadel ring was for sale on eBay. To us this was heresy. No one but a graduate or a relative of a deceased graduate should have access to something as sacred as this.
One of the first things we wanted to know was who's ring was it? The rings are all engraved on the inside with the name of the owner. Quite a number of graduates have lost their rings in any number of ways but they were ALWAYS replaced with another. One classmate who was a POW during Vietnam had his ring stolen by his VC captor. (read his story here)
After about a day of posting on the Yahoo Group we collectively decided that to allow this ring to be sold to someone who had no connection to the school or the Class of 1969 was unacceptable. We collectively would buy the ring and return it to it's rightful owner if that were possible. The seller would not give us any information about the ring, including the inscription inside, other than to say he bought it at an estate sale.
The lack of cooperation by the seller really didn't make any difference because we had decided that we were going to buy the ring regardless of the cost. When the auction ended we had indeed outbid everyone to the tune of a little over $700. The next task was to find out who's ring it was and return it if possible.
In about three days we had the ring and knew who it belonged to. Let's call him "Joe". Joe entered the Army like so many of us and was preparing to go to Vietnam as a Lieutenant in 1970 when he was stricken with and died of spinal meningitis. To make matters even more sad, Joe died only a couple of days before he was to be married. He was in fact buried on the day of his wedding. At his funeral his fiancee said her vows at his casket and placed the wedding ring in his casket to be with him forever.
Several of my classmates were pallbearers at the funeral and verified this story. Over the intervening 40 years everyone lost touch with the fiancee and Joe's family. It would make sense that his fiancee eventually moved on with her life and has another family. But did she keep the ring or was it Joe's family that kept the ring? Since the ring was purchased from an estate sale, is there anyone left for whom this ring would have meaning?
We don't know the answers to these questions yet but several of my classmates who were familiar with the families involved are now doing some detective work to find out. Most importantly if we cannot locate a family member for whom this symbol will have meaning, at least the ring will reside with The Band of Brothers, fellow classmates of the Class of 1969. I am proud of my brothers. I am proud that I am a part of something as good and honest as the bond between us.
I am proud that "I Wear The Ring".
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