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The Ringfinder: Southernmost Metal Detector Returns Coast Guard Academy Class Ring Lost Decades Ago

 Alex Corpion found a Coast Guard academy ring lost almost 30 years ago in the water off Key West.
Nancy Klingener
Alex Corpion found a Coast Guard academy ring lost almost 30 years ago in the water off Key West.

Almost every day after work, Alex Corpion goes out to the beach in Key West to look for treasure. Recently, he was in the water just off Smathers Beach on the island's Atlantic shore. A friend who is also a metal detector told him about a woman who had inquired about a diamond ring she lost while snorkeling in the area.

"So he tried to look for it, he didn't find it that day. He let me know about it. That particular day, I was out there looking for that ring and I actually found that Coast Guard ring," Corpion said. It was a class ring from the Coast Guard Academy and it had been there, it turns out, for awhile.

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"I remember the ring slipping off my finger, probably in water that was chest deep or so. And I looked around a little bit and had no luck and I thought at the time, that's the end. We're never going to find this ring. I pretty much gave up and moved on," said Capt. Erich Klein.

Klein said he was in Key West on spring break around 1992, goofing around in the water with some friends.

"It was upsetting but in the grand scheme of things — it's an object that can be replaced," he said. And he hadn't had the ring that long.

"At the Academy, they have miniature rings that you get your junior year that you typically give to a loved one or a significant other. At the time I didn't have anyone in particular to give it to and the next year you get the 'real' ring, which is bigger and the one that you wear after you graduate and for the rest of your life," Klein said.

That spring break trip wasn't Klein's last to Key West.

"I was on a patrol boat in Key West from 2000 to 2002 as the commanding officer. And so I had been all around the island over those two years and had been back to the beach and the thought crossed my mind — 'Hey, I lost a ring here' — and I kind of laughed it off," Klein said. "I figured I would never see it again."

This wasn't Corpion's first foray into finding rings or jewelry and he followed his usual methods for trying to reunite the ring with its owner.

"I went on Facebook and went on Lost and Found Class Ring. I also went on our Key West Lost and Found page," Corpion said. He also called on a metal-detecting friend in Marathon for help.

"I sent him the name that was in the ring. The name was very difficult to really figure out with the cursive handwriting they used. It was almost like a signature so we had a hard time trying to figure out the last name," Corpion said. "But eventually Trevor did find him for me and he sent me the information, the phone numbers to his work. I was able to call the phone number, I got his message machine, I left him a message, he returned my call and that's how we got in touch."

Klein said he was impressed by the efforts by Corpion and others to track him down.

"It certainly gives you faith in people out there doing the right thing. Alex seems to have a real interest in helping people find things that they lost and that's certainly an admirable quality," he said. "The Coast Guard is a small tight community and there are a lot of people who saw that there was a ring that needed to find its owner and took action immediately to try to track me down."

Klein didn't have a significant other to give the ring to at the time he lost it, but he does now.

"My wife found out that I had this long-lost ring that she probably didn't know was missing and it showed up actually today with FedEx delivery," Klein said. "And when I got home from work she was wearing it."

Klein now works at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C. and lives in Maryland. Corpion's day job, when he's not finding long-lost rings, is with Frank's Plumbing in Key West.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.