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1963 AFA Grad's Class Ring Returns Home to Academy

A 1963 Air Force Academy class ring that belonged to Patrick Wynne, who died in the Vietnam War, was donated to his class during a special ceremony at the academy Thursday.

The ceremony was held to honor the 18 members of the class who were killed in Southeast Asia and another two who spent time as prisoners of war.

But the ceremony also included another war story about the ring, which belonged to one of those 18.

On. Aug. 8, 1966, 1st Lt. Patrick Wynne's plane, an F-4C Phantom fighter on a bombing mission in North Vietnam, was shot down near the Chinese border.

Wynne, then 24, and his pilot ejected. His pilot was killed instantly.

Wynne, badly injured, initially survived and was discovered on the ground by a rural Chinese family living in North Vietnam.

The family cared for Wynne, but he eventually succumbed to his wounds and died -- wearing his class ring.

The family retained the ring with intentions of someday returning it to his family in the United States.

Wynne's remains were eventually discovered and interred at the academy's cemetery in 1977, but his ring took a longer route home.

In 2007, an American businessman, Herbert G. Schaffner, was visiting China with his wife, who is of Chinese descent. When Schaffner's wife introduced him to her uncle, the uncle recalled the ring that had been in his family's possession since he was 10 years old, when the crash had occurred.

The uncle gave the ring to Schaffner in hopes he could fulfill his family's long held intention.

Soon after, the ring was in the hands of Wynne's family.

Wynne's brother, Michael Wynne, who served as the 21st secretary of the Air Force, spoke during Thursday's ceremony, which was attended by about 250 academy graduates from the class of 1963 who were there to celebrate their 50-year graduation reunion this week.

"I can assure you that, as a family, we've thought long and hard about this evening's ceremony," Michael Wynne said.

"We have decided together that dedicating it permanently to the class of '63 is fitting. It pays to Patrick a very high honor."

The ring is encased in a large shadowbox in the academy's Arnold Hall.

Seeing it was a moving experience for retired Air Force Col. Jack Martines, who attended classes and played sports with Patrick Wynne and saw him just weeks before his death.

"To know where the ring had been and where it ended up and how it made it back -- it's proof of what we went through those years (at the academy)," he said, eyeing his own ring.

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