A Fortress of Duty
Freshman Chadd Smith knows why he's hanging from his closet shelf by his fingers at three in the morning, with his legs bent and spread. It has to do with football. The Citadel hadn't lost the Wofford game since 1958. In fact, it had never lost the Wofford game at home. But tonight it did. As usual, somebody has to pay. As usual, it's the freshmen. That part he understands. What Smith wants to know is, What is it? What is that coldness I feel now and again down between my thighs?
Smith is hanging because of football and duty. At The Citadel it is the sophomores' duty to run out any freshman who does not measure up to the Citadel man—to break him down, humiliate him, run him until he cannot feel his toes, drill him until the arm with which he holds his rifle is numb, yell at him until his cerebellum turns to Jell-O, rack him until he either does things the Citadel way or goes home blubbering to his mommy. It's a point of pride among the 17 companies at The Citadel to see who can chase out the most knobs, as freshmen are called; a usual figure is 15% of the class. This tradition is called the Fourth Class System, and if you survive it you are, say Citadel men, "nine feet tall and bulletproof."
Smith knew knob year would suck, but he knew what to do. You talk to no one and salute everyone. You run when you are inside the barracks. You ask permission to eat, leave, pass, cough, sneeze and scratch your nose. You serve everybody at mess and hope you can stuff in a forkful before mealtime has elapsed. You polish your shoes and your brass until midnight and then your French and chemistry until two, and you hope the guy who blows reveille dies in his sleep.
September 13, 1992
You do not put a picture of your girlfriend on your desktop. You do not watch TV, because you are not allowed a TV. You do not get Cokes out of the barracks Coke machine. You do not walk on any grass, which means you must walk around the football-field-wide quadrangle in the middle of campus. You do not have any answers besides Sir, yes, sir! and Sir, no, sir! and Sir, no excuse, sir! And you do not complain unless you want 13 weekends of being stuck in your room.
You try to make nice and be invisible, because any sophomore half your size can drop you for 15 push-ups on a lark. For the first week you smell like three-day-old sweat socks, because all you get are 10-second showers—unless, of course, some joker decides to throw you a shower party. This is another Citadel tradition, in which the upperclassmen turn the showers up all the way on hot, dress you in full rain gear and make you exercise until you throw up. Could be worse. There was once an upperclassman, it is said, who would hold a pistol to freshmen's heads, asking them things they should have memorized from the school guidebook. He found that a pistol is a great aid to concentration.
But if things are bad for freshmen, they are doubly bad for freshman athletes. The Citadel may be the only college where the freshman athlete is LMOC, low man on campus. "In high school," says one former knob jock, "you're a big deal. Here you're dirt." In season, athletes get out of the daily marching and Saturday-morning room inspections, which means they're resented by the other cadets, and that means when an athlete returns to the barracks, he must make amends. It doesn't matter that the jock must practice his sport four hours every day instead of marching. It doesn't matter that hazing can be, officially at least, grounds for immediate expulsion from The Citadel—not to mention a misdemeanor according to South Carolina law. What matters is that the jock has found a loophole in Citadel discipline, and no Citadel man with a pocketful of duty will stand for that.
Right now Smith, a member of the school's cycling team, is wondering how much more duty he can take.
"Smith!" one of the upperclassmen roars into his ear. "Whatever you do, don't drop! Don't drop, Smith!" Smith is not sure who exactly is trying to shatter his tympanum. He hadn't had time to see. The door flew open and the lights were off.
Cadet Smith always wanted to be a Citadel man. He wanted it so devoutly that he and his single mom took out $13,000 in loans to make first-year tuition. You wear the Citadel ring, you get a good job, because Citadel men look out for each other. You could spray a bucket of birdseed in any restaurant right here in Charleston and hit a dozen of them.
At first Smith thought he might slip through freshman year without making a blip on the sophomores' radar screen. But one day during sweep detail a sophomore decided that Smith was sweeping incorrectly. As he screamed at Smith, he spit in Smith's mouth. It disgusted Smith and this showed on his face and the sophomore knew it, so the next day he spit in Smith's mouth again. The following day, when Smith started feeling sick, he was sure he'd caught something from the boy's saliva. He got worse. Doubled over in pain, he tried to make it to the infirmary. On the way a sophomore dropped him for 15 quick push-ups. Citadel men leave mercy to heaven.
Once he was checked into the infirmary, Smith called his mother. She called Citadel authorities. The spitter didn't go down for it, but word got back to the upperclassmen. Cadet freshman Smith was now officially a snitch. And that's when things just got out of hand.
The upperclassmen took turns busting into Smith's room for late-night "inspections." (There are no locks on bunk-room doors at The Citadel.) Three hours of sleep in a night became a luxury for Smith. Many nights he got zero hours. He made up for it by falling asleep in class. His plan to make "killer grades" the first year and thereby get a scholarship was sinking fast.
Then came the Wofford loss, and that's how Smith ended up hanging from his closet shelf, his legs burning, his arms trembling, his fingers slipping and his ears absorbing the insults and the spit and the constant warning: "Don't drop, Smith! Whatever you do, don't drop!"
What was it down there?
"O.K., Smith," a voice finally whispered in his ear. "We're getting ready to leave. But before we go, I want you to look down."
There, gleaming in the reflected moonlight, two inches below his testicles, was an officer's saber.
A Sentinel of Responsibility
The Citadel's 15-12 loss to Wofford on Sept. 14, 1991, was laid mostly on the burred head of 175-pound cadet freshman kicker Chad Davis, who missed three field goals. It didn't matter much to the sophomores that Davis had kicked two field goals and three PATs in a win against Presbyterian College in the first game of the season. In fact, the sophomores had made him hang for 15 minutes from his closet shelf just so he wouldn't get a swelled head. But blowing the Wofford game was unforgivable.
On Davis's recruiting visit the football coaches had made The Citadel sound like the Elks Club. As an all-state kicker from Union (S.C.) High School and a USA Today Honorable Mention All-America, Davis had choices. "I thought a little responsibility and discipline might be good for me," he says.
A little might have been. But one day Davis called a rifle a gun, and the sophomores smelled a weakness. They hounded him. They stepped on his shoes and hollered, "Why aren't these shined?" They jumped into him at formation and threw discreet elbows into his gut. They busted his chops every night. "I'd lie awake," he remembers, "wondering when they were going to come in next." He was taking five packs of Vivarin a week and drinking two Cokes per class to stay awake.
When he blew the Wofford game, things just got out of hand.
According to several sources, to remind Davis that he had choked, a couple of cadets made him stand at formation the next day with his hands around his neck. The screaming and humiliation were delivered in industrial-sized doses. And finally something inside Davis couldn't take it anymore.
"Davis, why'd you miss those kicks?" a sophomore screamed.
"Davis, you got an attitude?"
"Sir, yes, sir!"
From that moment until he woke up a day later in the infirmary, Davis can't remember a thing. "I think I went crazy," he says. "They said I was hysterical."
Though the administration says it did not happen, sources say they were told that the sophomores threw Davis a blanket party. This is not to be confused with a towel party, in which you drop a dozen bars of soap into a towel, tie it up and beat a knob with it. In a blanket party the attackers sneak into the victim's room, throw a blanket over his head and do what they may. This time doing what they may meant taking Davis to a utility sink. They dunked Davis's head in the water five, 10,15,20 times.
They stopped when he passed out.
A Bastion of Antiquity
To be a Citadel man is to be part of a rich Southern tapestry. The school was formed in 1842 by an act of the South Carolina state legislature. Citadel cadets manning four Charleston Harbor cannons fired the first shots of the Civil War, on the Northern supply ship Star of the West.
The Citadel has earned a reputation as a good place to send your boy to purge him of all the hogwash and MTV gurgling in his cranium; a place to turn him into a gentleman soldier and a useful citizen. Your average Citadel cadet is a patriotic boy from a conservative family in a small, low-country town in the Carolinas, quite often a boy with a military man in his family or, even more often, a Citadel legacy. He is a boy who would like to test his guts against the Citadel horror stories he has heard. Nobody comes in naive, but nobody comes in ready, either.
You need to post only a 2.0 grade-point and an 800 SAT score to qualify for admission. Last year The Citadel ranked second among South Carolina public universities in entering freshmen's SAT scores. Of course, South Carolina public universities ranked dead last in the nation, so second docs not exactly get the commandant invited to the Rose Garden.
An entire military hierarchy is in place here, from the president, Lieut. Gen. Claudius Watts, to the cadet regimental commander to the platoon commanders to the company commanders right down to the lowliest, gutter-swabbing knob. On any Friday of the school year you can see The Citadel outfitted in its finest appointments, gray and black and buttons and flags, marching precisely on the parade field. It's the best and cheapest show in town. Of course, it's nothing more than that—a show.
Citadel cadets have no more connection to the military than do Harvard undergraduates. Only those students who have signed ROTC contracts will be obliged to be sworn into a branch of the service, and an ROTC contract can be signed on most any campus in the country. Even former Citadel president James Stockdale, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, likened attending The Citadel to playing soldier. Get up close and you can see it. Those splendid cadet uniforms—and the faculty's, too—are of the sort you might get at a good Army surplus store, vague grays and indefinite stripes and tags. The Citadel uniform is the equivalent of a World War II bomber jacket ordered through a catalog.
What's odd about all this is that The Citadel is a state-funded institution. What's odder still is that the taxpayers who pay for The Citadel are not allowed in the barracks, women are accepted only into the night program, and the school's policy-making body—the board of visitors—is made up entirely of Citadel graduates, all of them with honorary military rank.
Still, if you like that kind of show, there is none in America quite like it. To spend a night in the Citadel barracks is to bunk down in a military time warp. People salute people. Taps is played every night and reveille every morning. Cadets walk outdoors on 70-year-old balconies to get to their communal shower. The Citadel burr haircut is still given every day at the campus barbershop. Freshmen, not faxes, are still the most common way to send messages. Even the architecture is out of time and place. The Citadel's straight lines and whitewashed, Lego-castle walls evoke a stark Moorish prison. And within those walls the night is cleaved by mysterious screams.
A Towering Bulwark of Rigid Discipline
If there is one thing you learn at The Citadel, it's discipline. Every cadet who has been on the parade grounds for a march on a muggy September afternoon knows what happens when a mosquito alights on the neck of the boy in front of him: absolutely nothing. And though the mosquito feasts and the lump rises on the boy's neck, he does not flinch. A Citadel man does not permit himself to itch.
Cadet freshman lineman Karl Brozowski, a towering bulwark of a boy, 6'3", 240 pounds, thought he might like some of that hard discipline. Brozowski figured he could handle anything. He comes from rich football stock. His dad, John, played for Tennessee. His dad's uncle is former Philadelphia Eagle Chuck Bednarik. Karl even turned down an appointment to West Point to be a Citadel man. That was his first mistake.
His second was going to junior cornerback Torrence Forney about all the racking he was getting from the sophomore next door. Mark Rajewski, a 5'9" second-year cadet, had graciously chosen to devote his time and energy to driving Brozowski mad. "It's going to be a long year," Rajewski had told him. In the second week Rajewski kept Brozowski up most of the night before a test. That's when Brozowski went to Forney. Hello, snitch.
Brozowski's parents could tell things weren't going well for him, so they would drive down from Atlanta on Saturdays and take Karl and a few other football freshmen to the beach. "Karl looked like he'd been in a POW camp," says John. "He'd lost 30 pounds. He was incoherent. We'd get to the beach and he'd just fall asleep. He seemed like he was on drugs."
But it wasn't until the night before the Wofford game that things just got out of hand. According to a criminal complaint filed last October by Brozowski, Rajewski had been visiting him nightly. Brozowski was polishing the floors of his room about 11 p.m. when Rajewski walked in with a toothpick in his mouth, liquor on his breath—though school policy forbids drinking—and hell in his eyes.
Rajewski ordered Brozowski to attention, says the complaint, took the toothpick out of his mouth and began poking Brozowski hard in the back with it. Then he walked around and started poking Brozowski hard in the nipples, hard enough to break the toothpick. He told Brozowski to swallow his lipful of chewing tobacco. To make up for that, he inserted an aerosol can of Cheez Whiz in Brozowski's mouth and squirted. Rajewski was just having a little fun, sort of a Tailhook-starter-kit type of thing.
Brozowski wanted to throw up, but Rajewski forbade it. Rajewski finally left, after which Brozowski spit in the round file. But Rajewski came back every 20 minutes until almost 5:30 a.m., when Brozowski had to be on the line for formation. This is not the best way to prepare for a 7 p.m. football game. Luckily Brozowski did not have to suffer any of the hell that went on after the Wofford loss. He quit.
"I had to," Brozowski says. "Under these conditions I was either going to flunk out or haul oft and kill someone."
Instilling Within Us High Ideals
It wasn't until 1966 that The Citadel accepted a black cadet, and this inspired Pat Conroy's best-selling 1982 novel, The Lords of Discipline. Conroy, a '67 Citadel graduate, describes how a black cadet is tortured by a white-supremacist group, The Ten.
Twenty-five years later, in 1991, Charleston television reporter Angela Brown reported that a group known on campus as the Churchill Society contained within it a white-supremacist faction. Brown happened to be the girlfriend of The Citadel's starting quarterback, Jack Douglas, a black senior. And though The Citadel has said that the Churchill Society met only to discuss Western civilization, Brown stands staunchly by her story.
"All of my friends who went to it said it was a white-supremacy group," says Raymond Mazyck, a black who in 1991 was a senior. Mazyck, from north Charleston, was convicted by the school's Honor Court of encouraging a freshman to lie about how he had gotten a gash in his head a year earlier. What had happened was that a cadet had been forced to do bunk push-ups, and the bunk had flipped and struck the freshman. It was Mazyck, an eyewitness to it all, who had taken the freshman to the infirmary that day. But a year later the freshman said Mazyck had told him to make up a story about the injury so that the freshman could not be racked for being a snitch. The Citadel code of honor says, "A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate those who do." Mazyck stuck to his original story, but the Honor Court believed the freshman. Mazyck was sentenced to be expelled, though he appealed the decision.
But what really went on in the Honor Court that day? Was it just a fluke that the head of the Churchill Society, Christopher Carrier, was also the Honor Court chairman? And was it just Lieutenant General Watts's sense of justice that caused him to overturn the verdict and reinstate Mazyck, or could it have been a lawsuit threatened by the Charleston chapter of the NAACP?
In 1986 five white cadets went into the bunk room of black freshman Kevin Nesmith, the brother of the only black member of the board of visitors. Wearing sheets—and pillowcases over their heads—and holding a burning paper cross, they mumbled Nesmith's name and uttered racial obscenities. The five were convicted of violating the Fourth Class System, but it was Nesmith who left school and never got his degree. Today all five of his assailants wear the Citadel ring.
"Race relations are not a problem at The Citadel," says Watts, but the school's strategic planning report in 1988 found that 56% of black cadets—7% of the student population is black—said they were discriminated against "because of race." Have things changed in four years? "I've heard guys call me 'boy,' " says running back Jason Pryor, a sophomore this season. Wrestler Robert Reaves says he was called a "stupid nigger" last year, when he was a freshman. The school formed a committee to study race relations; it recommended that the playing of Dixie and the waving of Confederate flags at football games be discouraged.
Good luck. At The Citadel, Confederate pride still runs high. At a Friday lunch last year a senior announced the Senior of the Week award. It went to the cadet who had climbed 700 feet up the Channel 2 tower in Charleston to hang the Confederate flag. Cheers rocked the mess hall, but at one table two black football players simply stared down at their plates. They were Douglas, the quarterback, and Kelly Fladger, the star cornerback.
You either believe in The Citadel wholly or you don't last. Five days before the Wofford loss freshman Brian Alewine, a white baseball pitcher, was in the shower room with a black freshman he didn't know. Two other cadets came in and began taunting the black cadet.
"Did you see Mississippi Burning?" they asked him. "How about Lords of Discipline'? Did you see the scene where they pour gasoline on the black guy? You know that——could happen right here if you stay. You know that, right?"
The black cadet didn't flinch, but something inside Alewine couldn't take it.
"Why don't you back off?" Alewine snapped at them.
The two cadets pushed Alewine up against the shower wall.
"You got a problem?" one said. "We can settle it right here."
But nothing was settled until later. It was then, the next night, that things just got out of hand.
Alewine was running a message from his own H Company to the clerk's room at E Company. When Alewine got there, he says, "there was one kid standing in the corner just crying like a baby. And the E Company clerk was holding a broken-off stick, a transom stick." Alewine says that when the clerk saw him, he yelled at him to "brace"—to take the standard position for a freshman in the presence of an upperclassman: chin tucked tightly into the chest, shoulders up around the ears, a position that most resembles that of a child about to be struck.
"You're not bracing!" the clerk yelled.
Alewine braced harder, but it didn't seem to make a difference. The clerk took the jagged transom stick, walked behind Alewine and began jabbing him between the shoulder blades. "Shoulders up!" his tormentor kept yelling as he jabbed him.
Days later Alewine's father would be "shocked," he says, by the "big red lumps" on his son's back. Still Alewine did not report the incident. Unfortunately for him, somebody else did.
Four days later, the infamous night of the Wofford loss, Alewine stopped and braced at the bottom of the barracks stairs to let the upperclassmen down first. One of them was the clerk.
"Hey," a cadet yelled. "Do you know who this is?"
"Who is it?" yelled the clerk.
"It's Alewine," said the voice. "The rat."
The clerk asked Alewine if he had turned him in for the jabbing incident. Alewine said he hadn't. The clerk left, but another cadet ordered him to come to the darkened sally port near the trash cans and brace. Alewine did.
Alewine could feel the cadet's nose in his ear.
"Sir, yes, sir!" said Alewine.
"You're the one that got those guys in trouble!" the cadet screamed. "You called Colonel Dick!" (Col. Harvey Dick is the assistant commandant.)
"Sir, no, sir!"
"Were you hazed, Alewine? Is that what you told them?"
Alewine saw where this was heading, but what could he do? There are not many places a knob can turn in moments of terror. In each company there is one adult supervisor—one for every 118 cadets—but he goes home at night. Night in the barracks belongs to the boys.
"We're going to treat you the way we treat the rest of the niggers," the voice said.
Alewine tried to get past the cadet. He felt a hard right hand in the gut. Alewine swung wildly with his own right, smashed the cadet on the top of the head and ran. The next day he wound up in Charleston's Roper Hospital with severely bruised ribs and shortness of breath.
Three days later Brian Alewine stepped out of the Long Gray Line for good.
Around The Citadel the system is said to work. Don't you see? All the jocks and knobs who left, they never had the stuff it takes to be a whole man. The gate is always open. Only the wimps use it. Since nobody was expelled over any of these incidents, how could hazing have taken place? After all, if anybody had known about the hazing, the honor code would have obligated him to come forward, right?
Richard Varriale, last year's cadet regimental commander, the leading cadet on campus, says, "If somebody started poking me with a toothpick, I'd probably start laughing."
So Brozowski lied? And Davis? "No, I don't think they all lied," Varriale says. "I think they all exaggerated." And freshman football player Jess Fuller, who left claiming harassment and whose mother said she hadn't seen him that skinny since the ninth grade? And 1991 freshman soccer player Michael Lake, an outstanding student who left claiming hazing—the same Michael Lake who was once ordered not to cough in line even though he had bronchitis? "Lake was not well liked by his own teammates," says Varriale.
And Alewine? "Brian Alewine was not beaten," Lieutenant General Watts wrote in a letter to the editor of the Charleston Post and Courier, which published Alewine's account of his night of terror. "[He] was hit one time by an unknown cadet. No beating took place." Watts wrote that the athletes who left had all "decided they would prefer a different life-style."
There will be no outrage among Citadel alumni over the bloody and torturous year of 1991. Forging good men has always been a little messy, hasn't it? Besides, Citadel men are mostly skin and a haircut wrapped around loyalty. They can be counted on to put their wallets where their hearts are. They chipped in $27 million over four years in a recent fund-raising campaign. Not bad for a school that graduates only 500 cadets a year.
But not all graduates are so generous. Mike Montei, a former Citadel baseball star, believes "The Citadel shot itself in the foot" over the Alewine incident. And Conroy wrote recently, "When the jocks start leaving early, it means the corps is out of control." Even quarterback Douglas, the alltime leading rusher among Division I-AA quarterbacks, is worried. "We need more adult supervision around here," he says. "This place can be crazy."
For the coaches the march never ends. Chal Port quit not long after the Alewine incident, ending 27 years as a baseball coach. "I've never been in favor of hazing or harassment," he says. "There's a better way for leadership than to be negative all the time."
Football coach Charlie Taaffe shrugs when asked about the Fourth Class System. Every day he works with freshmen who can barely keep their chins off the ground. You can walk into the lobby of the football building any weekday and not be able to sit down. All the couches and chairs are filled with sleeping freshmen. Last season Taaffe lost four out of 17 recruits to the Fourth Class System, and that's a waste of money and time and scholarships.
The coaches know that The Citadel would rather close its doors than give up the Fourth Class System. The breaking down of knobs is the backbone of the place. The Fourth Class System survives even though The Citadel's own 1988 report found that a vast majority of the faculty believe the system severely hurts freshman academics. "Our kids are exhausted when they come to class," says one English teacher. "As a result they are less competitive when it comes to grad school and ROTC commissions."
Watts bristles. "The Fourth Class System is time-tested," he says. "It's not a mean system. It's a demanding system."
And it might just be chasing out the wrong boys.
Pride in Achievement
These days field goal kicker Davis does not feel nine feet tall and bulletproof. He feels terrified. Six weeks after leaving The Citadel, he was driving his car when he pulled over and went absolutely ballistic. He began screaming at his girlfriend—yelling at her as if she were a knob, saluting and marching back and forth. All he remembers is coming to on the hood of his car.
"I guess I went crazy," he says. "Like somebody in a war. I didn't know who I was or where I was. My girlfriend said I blanked out. I guess I'd gone back into [The Citadel]. It's funny, before I went to The Citadel, I never blew up at my girlfriend. Now I blow up at her all the time."
He's seeing a psychiatrist. He had a chance to kick for a small college, but he got only as far as the mailbox. "I didn't go because I'm scared of failing," he says. "I'm scared to make any kind of decision. I doubt myself so much."
Davis's condition is just one of the achievements the sophomore class of 1990-91 can brag on. Smith, the cyclist, quit The Citadel soon after the saber episode. He and his mother got only $1,200 of his $13,000 loan money back. The Citadel explained where the rest went—to uniforms and meals and whatnot—but Smith never understood how he could have spent it all in three weeks.
Michael Lake has landed a soccer scholarship at Erskine College, in Due West, S.C. Jess Fuller is going to try to make the football team at Georgia as a walk-on. He has no scholarship. Karl Brozowski will play for Tennessee-Martin after fighting for six months to have The Citadel release him from his scholarship commitment. Brian Alewine is pitching for UNC Charlotte, but his scholarship is history. "All I know is, the two kids that beat my kid are still in school," says Alewine's father, Wayne, "and I'm here, paying through the tongue."
In fact, aside from the resignation of a cadet who beat a freshman golfer, not one cadet was expelled for hazing or lying about hazing in 1991. Rajewski was found guilty of violating the Fourth Class System and ordered to do 120 hours of marching, but he had the sentence forgiven by Watts amid the great good feeling on campus when The Citadel upset Army three games after the Wofford loss. Because of its anger over the kid-gloves treatment of Rajewski, the Brozowski family pressed charges against him. Rajewski was sentenced to 100 hours of community service as part of an agreement with the court.
And now the leaves turn again. The beaten, humiliated and spat-upon of last year will be beating, humiliating and spitting upon new freshmen. Things might just get out of hand, but a Citadel tradition is a Citadel tradition. Boys who love the ring will be driving out boys who love the ring just as much but who, for a bad sweep job here, a rifle called a gun there, will never wear it.
"I can tell you one thing," says the wrestler, Reaves. "I'm going to be hell when I'm a sophomore. I took a lot of crap. I've gotta get somebody back." Here's hoping they beat Wofford.
Postscript: Just before this story went to print, a black Citadel freshman told authorities he woke up on Aug. 20 to find a string noose hanging from the bunk above him. Some say the noose was there because the freshman refused an upperclassman's demand that he sing Dixie in the barracks shower. The Citadel says that it has completed its investigation and has asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to take over.