True North


Polly Robinson

The Long Gray and Gold Line 

It’s November and that means Veterans Day. We have a long and proud history in my family of military service dating back to pre-Revolutionary War days. 

I have a photo of my paternal granddad, in his U.S. Army uniform and seated at a desk, his hands folded in front of him. On his left ring finger is a ring. The photo is black and white, but I know the ring is gold, with two large eagles, wings spread wide, supporting a large, flat, onyx stone, its engraving worn smooth with age. Hanging on the wall over his shoulder is a photo of his father, my great-granddad, dressed in his World War I “doughboy” uniform. His trousers are tucked into boots, his shirt pressed, creases sharp, and on his left hand he wears the same ring my granddad is wearing.

The ring in both photos was considered a “legacy” West Point ring and had four sets of initials and dates on it, representing three generations of West Point graduates dating from 1879 to 1935 (my great-great-granddad, my great-granddad and his two sons, my granddad and my grand-uncle). The ring, worn occasionally by my birthfather, was stolen during a burglary in the 1990s. 

Not too long ago I went down the rabbit hole known as While building my family tree I ran across an article linked to my great-granddad’s name. Amazingly, the lost West Point ring was featured and, nearly 25 years after it was stolen, I found it. According to the write-up, someone pawned our ring and it surfaced through the Ring Recovery Program begun in 1999. 

The program’s mission is to retrieve rings from pawnshops, eBay or secondhand stores and return them to their original owners or descendants if they can be found. If not, they go back to West Point. Each year since 2002, West Point has held an annual “Class Ring Memorial” ring melt ceremony, a time when alumni and/or their families donate a ring to melt with others to become new class rings. Apparently, my legacy ring became a part of what is known as the “long gray and gold line,” in homage to West Point’s corps of graduates, the Long Gray Line. 

Since that first ring melt ceremony in 2002, 441 rings have been added to the metal used in the rings for graduating classes. The academy’s information page states that the infusion of old gold with new is “symbolic of the strength and continuity of the Long Gray Line and the people who’ve paved the way” for new graduates. 

I am proud of our tradition of service and, while sad that I do not have that legacy ring in my possession, am honored that some part of my family’s legacy was passed on to the class of 2005. 

Polly Robinson teaches communication studies at Tacoma Community College. She lives in Home.