Sixty years ago, cadet Melvyn Sandler picked up his 1949 Citadel Class ring while the Korean War loomed on the horizon.
Classmate James DeVane got his ring at the same time, but as a much older veteran student. He'd already seen fighting in World War II and served 105 days as a German prisoner of war.
This week, members of The Citadel Class of 2009 will get their rings — complete with melted bits of the coveted 10-karat gold bands each man earned long ago.
Quietly during the past few years, The Citadel has offered its grads a different way to give back, creating a "Band of Gold" program in which class rings awarded to previous cadets are returned and remelted in with a new crop of castings
So far, 18 graduates have taken part, but the rings DeVane and Sandler donated are the first to be recycled, symbolically linking the Class of '49 with the Class of '09.
DeVane's decision to give up his ring for the "long gold line" was an easy one. For starters, he loves everything about The Citadel. Secondly, he didn't wear his band that much anyway. "It made my skin break out," DeVane, 84, said from his home in Fayetteville, N.C.
Sandler, 80, had nearly the same issue behind the easy decision to give up his class ring. "I couldn't wear a ring because I had a stroke so it wasn't doing me any good."
Both have fond memories of their time at the school and the life lessons they learned. DeVane, who is suffering ill-health, left The Citadel and entered the Army in 1943 when the war interrupted the education paths of thousands in the U.S. He was captured in Berg, Germany, in January 1945 after his unit had been surrounded by German troops and tanks.
The time DeVane spent as a prisoner differed greatly from Hollywood's versions of POW stories, and the poor conditions forced him to survive based on his own code of character. "There was no effective POW chain of command to maintain morale and internal discipline, to punish thievery, nor to discourage collaboration," he once told a biographer.
Sandler came to The Citadel from Princeton, N.J., and joined the Army afterward. He was sent to West Germany where he took up a post during the Cold War. During an interview this week, Sandler said he carries two distinct memories from his Citadel days.
"When you are in your 20s you make some good friends, and I made some close friends there," he said. Also, the school "taught me that discipline was necessary in anything you do. I'm very grateful for that."
Keenan Grigg, ring program coordinator at The Citadel, said the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has a similar ring-recycle program. She said it is a major statement for anyone to give up their class ring, given what went into earning it and the fact so many grads pass their rings on to family or ask to be buried with them. "The ring is unbelievably important to our alumni," she said.
This first ring recycling comes in time for the school's 381 members of the Class of '09 to receive their rings Friday. The Citadel's ring has changed little since the 1940s, Grigg said.
Senior Creighton Stuckart, of Hilton Head Island, thinks the symbolism of the ring donation program is good for the class. "It kind of shows we have to rely on each other, and give back to each other," he said.
Betty DeVane, James DeVane's wife, said there was no question that her ailing husband wanted to be a part of the new program, giving up his simple ring to the latest generation of cadets. "He's the most disciplined person I know, and I've been married to him for 61 years now," she said. "The Citadel had a lot to do with that."
The Citadel will present a live Webcast of Friday's ring ceremony beginning at 1 p.m. Go to citadel.edu for a link to the live Webcast.
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