The profiteering of the Korean War, bribery in college
basketball, the fur coats and deep freezes of the Truman
administration had all shaken the nation, but they all paled
beside the cheating at the Military Academy.
--STEPHEN AMBROSE, Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point
A half century ago, in the spring of 1951, when the U.S. was at war
in Korea--the troops there under the command of Gen. Douglas
MacArthur--most members of the Army football team were regularly
cheating on schoolwork. Some of them felt they had to, so they
could stay in the academy and play for Army, which was, at this
time before the NFL mattered much, the most esteemed team in all
The cheating ring had been growing, becoming almost brazen. So it
was that two members of the yearling (sophomore) class, Gil Reich
and Ned Braun, both varsity athletes who loved West Point,
learned of this activity. Reich, a starter on the football and
basketball teams and an outstanding cadet--a "make" in academy
parlance, someone special who had it made--discovered in his study
group that a football teammate, one of his closest friends, was
cheating. He agonized about what he should do, then approached
his buddy. "You've put me in a difficult situation," Reich said.
"You violated the Honor Code, and if I don't turn you in, then
I've violated it too."
The Honor Code was comprehensive and unyielding. "A cadet will
not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do," it declared.
"The Honor Code," wrote Col. Paul Harkins, commandant of the
cadets, who reported directly to the superintendent, the
academy's highest ranking officer, "is constantly dinned into the
ear of every cadet from the day he enters the Academy."
November 13, 2000
Although there was no ambiguity in the code, "It's human nature
to be loyal to your friend," says Reich. So he told his teammate,
"If you promise you'll never do it again, I'll forget all about
this." Grateful, the other cadet swore that he would stop, but
Reich soon realized he was still cheating. Nevertheless, Reich
could not find it within himself to do what he knew he was
supposed to do--turn in his teammate.
As for Braun (which is not his real name), he was on the Army
swimming team and struggling with math when another athlete, a
fencer, told him he could learn beforehand what was on tests.
"You don't know what's going on around here, Ned," the fencer
"I was living in a fool's paradise," Braun says now. Although he
acted noncommittal with the fencer, "I was furious," he
continues. "I was thinking, You son of a bitch. How could you do
this to this place? How could you compromise West Point?
"Remember, too, this was a time when so many of our national
heroes were military men. I even thought of our teachers--young
captains who had risked their lives for us driving tanks across
Even more wrenching was the fact that the previous year's
graduates had been coming home dead. The West Point class of
1950, rushed to the front, was decimated in Korea. Regularly
came word that autumn that another of MacArthur's finest
second-lieutenant shavetails had met death retreating pell-mell
from the Yalu. Just before the '50 Navy game, the Army football
team had learned that its captain of the season before, John
Trent, had been killed.
On April 2, 1951, shattered by what he had learned from the
fencer, Braun returned to his room, where he talked to his
roommates. Both were appalled by the revelation, so Braun went to
see an upperclassman on the Honor Committee. That cadet carried
the news up the chain, to Colonel Harkins, a cold, distant
officer who was known as the Ramrod. He was a polo player, always
creased and snappy. Harkins took pride in going by the book, and
he hated how football had come to be glorified at an academy for
I have a secret and dangerous mission. Send me a West Point
--GEN. GEORGE MARSHALL, VMI class of 1901
In a life of enormous achievement probably the only two things
that General MacArthur had ever wanted but failed to attain were
the Presidency of the U.S. and a position on the football team at
West Point. When he arrived at the academy, in 1899, he was a
scrawny mama's boy--5'11", 133 pounds--and athletically all he
could achieve was an undistinguished tenure as an outfielder on
the baseball team, for which his career highlight was working the
pitcher for a walk in the first Army-Navy baseball game. Then, in
his senior (first class) year, MacArthur came as close as he
would to suiting up for Army football. He became the team
God, how Douglas MacArthur loved West Point football! In all the
world he loved it less than only the academy itself and the
command of men under arms. When he returned as superintendent, in
1919, he would, on many autumn days, put aside his manifold
responsibilities to attend football practice, there to stride the
sideline, his familiar riding crop stuck under his arm. He took
such a liking to the team's star, right end Earl (Red) Blaik,
that in 1922, when MacArthur was given a new command, in the
Philippines, he wrote Blaik and invited the young officer to
become his aide-de-camp. However, there was so little opportunity
in the peacetime Army that Blaik had already resigned his
commission. Instead, he would be a football coach. Later,
MacArthur took to Manila another former West Point football
player, one Dwight Eisenhower.
Once Blaik was hired as the Army coach, in 1941, the team became
a juggernaut in which MacArthur--and much of America--reveled.
Within a few years, at a time when the U.S. military had just won
a world war, when almost every mother's son had served in the
Army, West Point's players were admired more than anyone else's.
A cartoon from the Army-Navy program of 1950 shows President
Harry Truman and Secretary of State Marshall watching the game
and the president saying, "Just look at that DEFENSE, George. I
hope Moscow is scouting THIS game." Hollywood even made a movie,
The Spirit of West Point, glorifying Army football.
From '44 through '50 the Cadets went 57-3-4. The NFL was small
beer in those days--Blaik himself denigrated it as second-rate
football, "show business"--so Army and Notre Dame ruled the
pigskin nation. Indeed, after their 1946 game at Yankee Stadium
produced a million ticket requests, Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor,
then the West Point superintendent, decided to cancel the
rivalry. It was becoming, he thought, rather like a symbolic
medieval battle between our knights in padded armor and the
Roman Catholic Church.
MacArthur, though, could never get enough of his gridiron
warriors. THE GREATEST OF ALL ARMY TEAMS STOP WE HAVE STOPPED
THE WAR TO CELEBRATE YOUR MAGNIFICENT SUCCESS he cabled Blaik
from the Philippines after Army had routed Navy in 1944. The
Brave Old Army Team--Blaik's Boys, they were called by now--kept
winning, grew even more romantic. In 1950, at the height of the
Korean War, when President Truman summoned MacArthur to Wake
Island, the general emerged from this extraordinary conference
to be briefed by his staff on one item from the outside world:
the Army-Michigan game. MacArthur returned to war well pleased,
for not only had the Cadets thumped the Wolverines 27-6, but Al
Pollard, Army's sensational yearling fullback, had again led the
Army's p.r. militia was already planning to push Pollard for the
Heisman Trophy in 1951. Pollard, Gil Reich's roommate, was the
perfect candidate. He had been a huge high school star in Los
Angeles. He was handsome, a consummate ladies' man, but also
attended Mass every morning and on the field carried a Mother
Cabrini medal in his right shoe. (He was half Italian.) "He was a
very gentle fellow," Braun remembers. "Everyone liked Al."
Like MacArthur, Blaik knew how to soft-soap the press. A lengthy
article swooning over Pollard had already appeared in Look
magazine. It became de rigueur for Blaik's journalistic acolytes
to write that Pollard ran "like a Sherman tank" and that he was
reminiscent of the fabled Mr. Inside, Army's 1945 Heisman winner,
Pollard remembers Blaik's office, where the coach kept a
portrait of MacArthur on the wall behind his desk, as if the
great soldier were, even now, looking over the coach's shoulder,
repeating part of the overwrought message that he had wired the
team before another Navy game: ONE SINGLE THOUGHT, ONE SOLE
IDEA--WRITTEN IN RED ON EVERY BEACHHEAD FROM AUSTRALIA TO TOKYO:
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR VICTORY.
On one occasion Pollard was summoned to the coach's office, and
Blaik waved him in as he talked on the phone. Pollard realized
Blaik was speaking to the man in the portrait himself. "A fine
fullback," Pollard heard Blaik describe him to MacArthur. "And he
did well on his exams. He'll make a wonderful officer." Long ago
had MacArthur concluded, after the Duke of Wellington, that
success on the playing field presaged triumph upon the
battlefield. As superintendent he had even ordered this, his own
original quatrain, inscribed above the gymnasium.
Upon the fields of friendly strife
Are sown the seeds
That, upon other fields on other days
Will bear the fruits of victory.
It was MacArthur who instituted the Honor Code. World War I had
just been fought, and the sentiment was strong that if you could
not trust a comrade in the classroom, how could you depend upon
him when the bullets began to fly? "The highest standards of
honor were to be demanded," Superintendent MacArthur wrote. "A
code of individual conduct, which would maintain the reputation
and well-being of the whole."
"There is a great contradiction in MacArthur," says John
Craigie, West Point '51, who was the swim team captain that
benighted year. "Honor was a different concept in the 19th
century. It was much more a matter of pride, of what we would
call machismo today. You responded to affronts. And MacArthur
was very ego-driven, very 19th-century in that respect. But
20th-century honor is more a matter of integrity, and the Honor
Code MacArthur created was really very modern."
Surely, then, it was all the more distressing for MacArthur that
his beloved football team betrayed the academy. That is, if it
were not indeed the academy that had failed itself, failed its
cadets. Even now, a half century later, it is difficult to be
sure who was more responsible for sowing the seeds that bore the
poisoned fruit that would, in other days, spoil other fields.
Specifically, the misalignment of values took the form of an
over-emphasis of football. We do not wish to be misunderstood in
this statement....What caused 90 young men, some of them
generally considered among the finest specimens in the Corps of
Cadets, to join together to conspire to defeat the Honor System
in the interest of the football team?
--REPORT OF THE BARTLETT COMMITTEE, September 1951
The worship of college football, the conflict between academic
integrity and pigskin idolatry, was hardly original to West Point
in the 1940s. But even if the scandal flabbergasted the country
and was called in Congress an example of "chronic moral
turpitude," the lessons were never learned, and the glorification
of intercollegiate football remains undisturbed to this day.
It had not, either, taken Army long to succumb to the allure of
gridiron glamour. Until Blaik was appointed coach in '41, Army's
teams usually had been coached for a tour of duty by a career
officer, who was assigned to the team in the same manner as he
might be posted to Fort Leonard Wood as supply officer. But when
Blaik was lured from Dartmouth, he was permitted to hire a
professional staff and was bestowed the rank of full colonel. He
was also appointed athletic director, and systemized recruiting
During the war, the academy virtually doubled in size, allowing
Blaik to use his influence to have a large number of players
granted appointments. During the war Blaik started an informal
tutoring program for his boys, and he organized a six-week cram
course to help recruits prepare for the academy's entrance exam.
The cram course became known, derisively, as "the monster school."
Among soldiers Army's football success was not universally
admired. Some of the monster players were called "tramps"--or
worse: draft dodgers. "They resented us, they resented Blaik,
they resented the whole football setup," Pollard recalls. Many
"ring-knockers," as academy graduates are known, saw Blaik as no
less a shirker than his tramp players. Even after his death, in
1989, when he was buried at West Point beneath a tall, dark
gravestone shaped like a football, Red Blaik would remain a
figure of division, as his admirers and detractors fought over a
proposal to rename Army's Michie Stadium for him. The compromise
probably only irritated everybody: Blaik Field at Michie Stadium.
Although he was known as Saint Blaik, the coach was not a man of
gentle accommodation. He had fought the professors at Dartmouth,
as he would stand up for his team at West Point, never giving
quarter to men like Colonel Harkins. In fact, at times Blaik
seemed to enjoy irritating his martial rivals. When plebes
arrived, for example, it was customary for them to dress up in
their new wool dress grays and march, in groups, to visit the
houses of pertinent staff officers. Blaik would countermand the
general order and have his new players visit him in cooler, more
casual khakis. During the 1950-51 school year the rift between
academics and football intensified. Harkins was furious that
Blaik had won leniency for the '51 captain-elect in a
disciplinary matter, and he seethed when the Honor Council voted
to spare another of Blaik's Boys who had destroyed a damning
personal deficiency report.
In any event Blaik may have been only a designated colonel, but
he still ran an ordered football battalion, delegating authority
well. Twenty of his assistants would become head coaches,
including Blaik's unknown backfield coach of that time. His name
was Vince Lombardi, and his special student was the quarterback,
Bob Blaik, Red's son. Young Blaik was bright, a graduate of
Exeter, in the top sixth of his class at West Point. He was a
fine musician as well as a good athlete--second baseman on varsity
baseball--yet not as gifted as Gil Reich. Blaik was a year ahead
of Reich, so he had started during the near-championship year of
1950. Only a huge upset at the hands of Navy in the season finale
had prevented Army from finishing undefeated and No. 1 in the
nation. As Reich says with a smile now, "Fifty-one was going to
"I think we would have been national champions," says Pollard.
"The Colonel was counting on it." Soon enough, though, losing to
Navy would seem like a minor setback. Before Army played another
game, everything around Blaik, the colonel and the coach alike,
would come crashing down.
I wish I'd heard about it at the very beginning. I'm sure I would
have been able to stop all this business in short order.
--RED BLAIK, Aug. 9, 1951
On April 11, 1951, President Truman fired MacArthur for
insubordination, handing the Korean command over to Gen. Matthew
Ridgway, who had been Superintendent MacArthur's athletic
director at the Point. The dismissal set off a national
firestorm. Blaik wired his idol: AMERICAN PUBLIC STUNNED STOP
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE TO OFFSET ADMINISTRATION HATCHETMEN STOP
MY AFFECTION AND DEVOTION TO YOU. Blaik had tried to persuade
MacArthur to return from Japan in '48 and seek the Republican
nomination for the presidency, and now he was even more eager
for the general to do so. When MacArthur arrived in New York
City for his ticker-tape parade, Blaik visited him in his
apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria and urged him to run.
Back at the Point, other grievous events were rushing ahead.
Harkins had learned about the cheating, and the investigation had
begun. Offenders, an assistant commandant said, were "the same as
dead." Independently of Braun, another swimmer had gone to
Craigie, the team captain, with an account of cheating, and
Craigie had told him to report to Harkins. The commandant quickly
understood that the number of cheaters was considerable. He
pondered how to compile more evidence.
In fact, cheating was nothing new among football players. It
dated back at least to 1947. When the academy enrollment had
expanded to about 2,500 during the war, the cadets had been split
into two regiments. Both regiments were given the same tests,
though, so a football player taking a writ (a quiz) in one
section could pass the information on to players in the other
section, who would take the quiz later that day. At West Point
then all students were required to take the same courses, and
many struggled with math and the sciences. In the 1950 game
program, for example, the thumbnail sketches of the players,
which noted their hobbies and their "drags" (girlfriends),
included such pregnant remarks as, "stars in European history,
but stumbles a bit in mechanics of solids." Or "a star in social
science, he comes off second best at times in his bouts with
Pollard laughs about the time he and teammate Ray Malavasi, who
would become an NFL coach, got lost on maneuvers because they
couldn't use a compass properly. Pollard couldn't even practice
each week until Thursday, because he was being tutored in math.
"If I hadn't received help," he says, "I would've flunked out."
At some point the cheating widened into a ring, including players
who fell into it more for convenience than from need. It even
took on a name--"getting the poop." Over time the players learned
about getting the poop almost as an introduction to the academy's
football culture. Says Craigie, "Most people felt betrayed
because the vast majority of us believed in the code, but if I'd
been a football player instead of a swimmer, and if I'd merely
been told about the Honor Code when I arrived and my teammates
had said, 'Yeah, but this is the way it really is,' I'd have been
sucked in too."
The demands of team and friendship were considerable, especially
when they carried with them the possible burden of dishonor or
betrayal. Craigie believes the academy never adequately
confronted this matter. He says, "When I hear someone say he was
taught at home not to lie, cheat or steal, but also not to
tattle, I say: Yes, what you learned at home is right. We do not
want an Orwellian society where everyone watches everyone else.
But you have entered the military, one of the chosen professions,
and you are expected to behave differently in the context of this
At least some players presumed--rationalized?--that the academy
knew of the cheating but turned a blind eye so as not to hurt the
football team. Indisputably, the temptation to cheat was
overwhelming. The Aug. 13, 1951 issue of TIME magazine called the
Honor Code "unrealistic." Blaik never made excuses for his
players, but he did carp that there was "an artificial
saintliness" built into the Honor Code. On the other hand, some
cadets who might have blown the whistle before Braun had been
scared to act. "I didn't report anybody," one would testify,
"because Colonel Blaik, the man on the hill, is a big man, and I
didn't want to cross his path."
Meanwhile, Harkins was still accumulating information, but he
thought he needed more evidence to obtain convictions before an
officers' board. He asked Braun and the other informer to go
undercover, to pose as members of the ring and turn over the
names of more cheaters. Braun was aghast. He says, "I thought I'd
done my best for the Honor Code, and now I thought, This isn't
fair. What Harkins asked me to do was itself dishonorable."
Yet how could he refuse the commandant, who to a cadet, Braun
suggests wryly, "sits somewhere between God and MacArthur"?
Desperate, Braun turned to his family. An uncle who was a lawyer
drove up from New York City and advised him to cooperate with the
commandant. "This is the Army, Neddy," the uncle said with a
"That was the worst advice I ever received in my life," Braun
says. But he accepted it, and he became a stool pigeon for
Harkins. Late in May he brought the commandant more names.
Harkins had also been assembling other evidence. For example, on
one chemistry test a correct answer was "concentration," but that
appeared on the poop sheet as "condensation," and a large number
of cadets all gave that exact answer.
The commandant took all his evidence to the superintendent,
General Irving. "To my mind there is only one solution or final
action to be taken in the case of those found guilty, and that is
separation from the Academy," Harkins wrote in a memorandum. "I
think when the air clears, the whole thing will have a salutary
effect on West Point and the country....It will prove to all of
us that though we want to have winning teams and play to win, the
teams must be made up of cadets who...respect and live by the
ideals and spirit of West Point. There can be no other way."
Lt. Col. Arthur (Ace) Collins Jr. was appointed to head the
official inquiry, and on May 29 the Collins Board started calling
in the suspects one by one. It began with first classmen, who
were supposed to be graduating in a few days. Collins and the
other officers on the board believed a number of seniors were
guilty, but they didn't think they had sufficient evidence.
Besides, we were fighting a war. The Army needed second
Harkins had already been assigned to a new position in Washington
and would leave West Point in June. Soon he would have his first
star, on his way to commanding all U.S. troops in the next war,
As the investigation continued, one football player threatened
Braun with murder. For his protection, he was put in isolated
confinement during June Week, when the members of the class of
'51 took their commissions and a lot of them took their drags and
married them, under crossed sabers. Braun sat alone, in a room,
watching the festivities below. He lives now, as he did then,
above a river. He looks out over the water.
"The honor scandal was the worst experience of my life," he says.
"I'm neither proud nor ashamed of my role. Fate chose me. I was
bitter about that for a long time. But what embittered me the
most was that neither Harkins nor my tactical officer--not a
single officer at West Point--ever came to me and asked how I was.
Not one son of a gun. And I was a kid. I could have been
suicidal. I wasn't looking for a pat on the back. But not a
single one of them ever said, 'Son, how are you doing?' Not one."
Cadet ----, Class of 1953, appeared before the Board, was advised
of his rights under the 24th Article of War, was sworn as a
witness, and testified...."I couldn't turn all those people in.
They were my best friends, and when you play ball together you
just get very close. Besides, when you see all these
upperclassmen who you worship doing it, you don't think it is so
--COLLINS BOARD REPORT
On the first day of questioning, some players lied. They were
scared, caught off guard. That night one of them telephoned Blaik
to ask for a meeting, and as a result the coach and a dozen
players gathered in the projection room. One player broke down.
"I'm going to be thrown out for passing the poop," he said,
sobbing, "and other guys are too."
"A lot of us were there," Reich says, "and all he did was tell us
to tell the truth. I don't believe that he thought we'd be thrown
"You men," Blaik said, "leaders of the academy, need to
straighten out this situation by going to the commandant's staff
and telling them what you know. If you and your fellow players
set the example, the corps will follow." Late that night Blaik
went by Superintendent Irving's house and woke him up by
literally throwing pebbles at his window. When Irving came
downstairs, Blaik argued that Harkins was "a black-and-white man
with no shades of gray" and that the matter should be turned
over to the Academic Board. But it was too late for that.
Following their coach's advice, the players told the truth. Some
of those who had already been questioned volunteered to retract
their falsehoods. At least a few of them had concluded,
cynically, that there would be safety in numbers, that if
virtually the whole team was guilty, the academy could not expel
them all. Not the whole glorious Army football team.
What they did not know is that the decision had already, in
effect, been made. There is only one solution, and that is
separation from the Academy. What Harkins had recommended would
proceed up the line through the superintendent to a special
independent board chaired by the much-respected retired judge
Learned Hand and finally to President Truman himself.
Soon Bob Blaik came to his father and told him he was implicated
too. The coach was stunned. "How could you?" he said.
"Hell, Bobby was an A student," Pollard says. "He just helped.
But that made you as guilty as anybody."
Bob Blaik, like so many of the others, would not give up his
teammates. Pollard's turn came. "Did you use illegal information
on exams?" a member of the Collins Board asked him.
"Yes, sir, I did," he said.
"Can you name other cadets who also did that?"
Reich gave much the same testimony. "I told them yes, I knew
cadets who had cheated, but no, I was sorry, I could not name
names," he says. "I was wrong, and West Point was right for what
it wanted to do. But I've always thought if you're going to have
an honor system, that's fine. It's the reporting of other people
that bothers me. You're asking young men to affect the lives of
So it went. "Loyalty to a group, particularly among the football
players, over-rode all other considerations," the Collins Board
concluded. "The average Cadet feels that the football team is not
a part of the Corps." A report by a subsequent committee
appointed to study the overall problem of cheating at West Point
and chaired by a professor of electrical engineering, Col. B.W.
Bartlett, confirmed those conclusions. The team had stood above
all. You cannot create such a bond as football players develop in
America and then expect them to betray that human allegiance in
the name of a spiritual code.
The irony is that all the investigating officers missed the
obvious point--or refused to admit it. The military ideal is to
make men work together, to make them surrender a large amount of
individual consciousness to act as...a team. The truth was
apparent: Playing football bound cadets together more than
playing soldier did. In a real sense, Colonel Blaik had the
finest regiment on campus.
Most players spoke the truth before the Collins Board, insofar as
they admitted their own guilt. Often a cadet's admission was the
only evidence against him. So in the end there was honor among
the players. "I'd rather have these men who told the truth lead
me into battle than some of the others," a cadet told reporters.
When President Truman's final decision came down on Aug. 3,
allowing the 90 guilty cadets to resign (at least they would not
be dishonorably discharged), Bob Blaik saw his father. According
to David Maraniss's biography of Lombardi, When Pride Still
Mattered, Blaik asked, "Dad, do you think it would have been
better to have lied?" Blaik would not respond to inquiries for
this article, so we do not know how his father responded. Perhaps
he made no reply. Perhaps he wasn't sure anymore.
The next day Colonel Blaik, accompanied by his wife, Merle, drove
down to see General MacArthur at the Waldorf. Blaik was prepared
to resign. As he approached Manhattan, his car blew a tire. The
colonel, never a man to be tardy, left his wife with the disabled
car and hitchhiked the rest of the way. He spoke to MacArthur for
two hours. "Earl, you must stay on," the general told him. "Don't
leave under fire."
A few days later Blaik convened 40 of his reporter "friends" at
Mama Leone's, his favorite restaurant in Manhattan, in an
atmosphere that resembled, one newsman wrote, "a Hollywood
premiere." Blaik announced he would not resign. The
sportswriters, abandoning all show of objectivity, stood and
In Korea, General Ridgway heard the news of the scandal. Shocked,
he wrote to Secretary of State Marshall, expressing "the hope,
with all my soul" that every guilty cadet would "be relentlessly
removed from the rolls of the Academy."
MacArthur thought otherwise. He said the West Point brass had
"set back the Academy 20 years." He, who had created the Honor
Code, believed the matter should have been handled discreetly,
with only regimental reprimands. No doubt he remembered the case
of a cadet, class of '03, who as a plebe had been hazed in the
extreme, forced to do what was known as "eagling"--perform
countless deep knee bends over shards of glass. The plebe went
into deep convulsions, and a roommate reported the incident.
After another cadet died from hazing, the plebe was brought up
before a U.S. congressional committee. He acknowledged the
brutality he had suffered in all its awful detail, but, sweating,
stomach churning, the plebe reportedly refused to divulge the
names of the upperclassmen who had tortured him. Instead he
pleaded not to be expelled. Indeed, despite his stonewalling, he
was allowed to return, without punishment, to the Long Gray Line.
That plebe, of course, had been Douglas MacArthur, back in the
I learned a lot from that experience. I learned never to get so
deeply involved with anyone who could, by himself, compromise my
integrity. I learned to keep people at arm's length, and I never
again accepted that anyone was telling me the truth.
The honor code remains at West Point, but after another cheating
scandal in 1976, changes were made upon the recommendation of a
commission chaired by Frank Borman, the former astronaut who had
been the Army football team manager in 1949. Most significant,
expulsion is no longer mandatory for a cadet who violates the
As for the players who were thrown out that summer of '51, many
entered civilian schools and distinguished themselves on the
gridiron. Ray Malavasi enrolled at Mississippi State. Bob Blaik
was an assistant coach at Colorado College. Gil Reich went to
Kansas, where he became an All-America in football and a starting
guard on the basketball team that lost by a point in the 1953
NCAA final. Reich was also elected president of his fraternity.
One of his frat brothers (and his basketball substitute) was a
boy they called Smiles. That was Dean Smith. Reich was drafted in
the second round by the Green Bay Packers and in the 11th by the
Boston Celtics, but he had joined ROTC and went into the Air
Al Pollard went directly to the NFL's New York Yanks, pausing
only to detour to Toronto to see a Copacabana showgirl he had
been dating. Unfortunately, on only his third day of practice he
tore ligaments in one knee and was never so good again as when he
had been an All-America in that halcyon autumn of 1950, running
like a Sherman tank. Nonetheless, he played three seasons with
the Philadelphia Eagles, to whom the Yanks traded him, and
starred for six more in the Canadian Football League.
Many expelled players attended a 1950 team reunion in Georgia in
the spring of 1999. "Still," Reich says, "we had a lot of guys
who wouldn't show up. They'd almost gone into depression back at
the time, and they never really got over the trauma." However,
most of the cadets who were kicked out have lived happy and
successful lives. "It was a very talented cross section," Reich
says of the team. "In the overwhelming majority, they remain
"They can succeed in life if they have the will to carry on,"
General Irving, the superintendent, said back then, and many
proved him right. Reich left the military after fulfilling his
ROTC obligation, but several other dismissed players had
distinguished careers in the service. Red Blaik wrote that one
expelled player was even awarded a Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
Reich says that one banished member of the '50 team became a
three-star general in the Air Force. In football Malavasi coached
the Los Angeles Rams to the 1980 Super Bowl, and two other men
from the 1950 team became ranking NFL referees, in charge of the
integrity of games. Others became company presidents and wealthy
entrepreneurs. Pollard returned to Philadelphia, where he was a
top salesman for a paper company and for eight years an Eagles
announcer. Reich joined Equitable Assurance, eventually retiring
as CEO of its subsidiary Equitable Group and Health. Both of the
old roommates have been married for more than 40 years to women
they never would have met had they stayed at the academy.
"Gil Reich was one of the finest men who ever went to West
Point," Ned Braun says. Braun is 70 now, still swimmer-strong,
young for his years. He glances out over the river, then turns
back. "You must understand: I liked most of those guys. I was sad
they were thrown out. And I idolized Colonel Blaik."
After the coach's memoir, The Red Blaik Story, came out in 1960,
Braun wrote him a long, touching letter, thanking the coach for
treating him, the informer, with such understanding. "Regarding
the whole affair," Braun wrote Blaik, "I wonder if your life has
been made any more miserable than mine."
Braun spent his whole professional life in the military, in the
Air Force. "I would not have been as fortunate in my life after
West Point if it had not been for the virtually unanimous support
of my classmates," he says. "But I knew I was marked for life in
the Army. I wouldn't have made colonel." In the Air Force,
though, he flew 188 missions in Vietnam, won a Bronze Star and
later rose to major general and head of intelligence.
West Point was not the only time Braun acted in isolation and
with courage because he believed in doing what he thought was
right. When the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner in 1983,
Braun and his Air Force intelligence staff, contrary to most
others in the high echelons of the U.S. intelligence community,
questioned the knee-jerk view that the dirty Communists had
deliberately taken out a civilian aircraft. Instead Braun and his
officers studied the intelligence and became convinced that the
action could only have been a tragic mistake. Braun was
"disgusted," he says, that Secretary of State George Shultz
swallowed the simplistic Cold War line. Unpopular as his stand
was, Major General Braun was proved right.
Still, Braun's decision to uphold the Honor Code and report his
classmates who had broken it has remained a keystone in his life.
His mother died a few years ago, in her 90s. "She lived 45 years
after the incident," Braun says, "and she never forgave me.
Never, to her dying day. She would just say, 'Ned, we never
raised you to be a snitch.'"
By contrast, many of the cadets who were sent packing have put
the matter behind them. Reich talks lovingly of his wife, Kay,
whom he met at Kansas, and of their three daughters and their
sons-in-law and grandchildren, and of his career. He has crossed
paths with many classmates, and none have ever made him feel
"My conscience is clear," Reich says. "I told the truth--that I
violated the Honor Code--and I had to leave. But the way I look at
it is, I've lived 69 years, and in one year I made a mistake.
That's 68 to one. My integrity and reputation in the rest of my
life speak for themselves."
In pro football some players would call Al Pollard "Cribber," but
he took it as the good-humored razzing with which athletes test
teammates. That's what teams are like. "I would feel like a damn
crook when I told people about it myself," Pollard says, "but
nobody ever judged me on that."
This summer's day he is sitting in the dining room of the house
where he and his wife, Pat, have lived for 39 years. John, the
oldest of their three children, has come by to visit. "But Dad,"
he says, "you never really knew, did you?"
"That people didn't judge you then when you told them."
Al mulls over that for a second. "Were you ashamed of me?" he
That catches John by surprise. After all these years, this is
obviously the first time Al has brought the subject to a boil.
"No," John says softly. "Of course not. I don't want this to
sound wrong, but Dad, I don't know anybody who hasn't pretty much
done what you did."
Al says, "We're all in the same boat. That's why there are
Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently
dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.
--GEN. DOUGLAS MACARTHUR, May 12, 1962
Somehow Coach Blaik led Army to two victories in 1951. The
Heisman Trophy that Pollard would have been favored to win went
to Dick Kazmaier of Princeton, an unblemished scholar-athlete. In
the years that followed, Army football regained some of its
former stature, and in 1958 Pete Dawkins brought the Heisman back
to West Point. The Cadets went undefeated that year, ranked third
in the nation. Redeemed, Red Blaik retired. MacArthur was never
more well pleased.
An Army football player resided in the White House then, but to
Blaik he was the wrong general. Eisenhower, Blaik thought, was a
vacillator. Eisenhower's attitude was, to Blaik's and MacArthur's
dismay, a 20th-century attitude that prized peace more than
So now it had come to 1962, and despite MacArthur's warning, the
U.S. was stumbling into another Asian war--under the uncertain
leadership of Lt. Gen. Paul Harkins. Harkins would regularly
guarantee that U.S. victory was imminent, dismissing North
Vietnamese soldiers and the Vietcong as "raggedy-assed little
On May 12 of that year, General MacArthur arose in his Waldorf
apartment and, strolling about in his trailing robe, practiced
the farewell he would deliver that afternoon at West Point: "The
shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of
old have vanished, tone and tint; they have gone glimmering
through the dreams of things that were." MacArthur repeated these
last magnificent lines that he had written, pausing only to take
a glass of water. Then onward: "Their memory is of wondrous
beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of
MacArthur memorized his speeches whenever he could, to appear to
be delivering such grandiose prose extemporaneously. Now 82 years
old, no matter--he would pull it off as brilliantly as ever, one
last glorious performance. "I listen vainly...for the witching
melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the
long roll," he rehearsed. "In my dreams I hear again the crash of
guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the
Alas, near the real battlefield far away, Harkins, the man who
had asked cadets to turn stool pigeon so that he might catch
others in their youthful deceit, was announcing grossly inflated
figures of enemy dead. He had operations censor intelligence
reports and falsify a map to show to the visiting Secretary of
Defense, inaccurately indicating a vastly diminished Vietcong
presence. Even at war Harkins was ever the Ramrod, with a
preference for beribboned dress whites. He was, Neil Sheehan
wrote in A Bright, Shining Lie, "a fatuously optimistic Colonel
Blimp" with "moral and intellectual insensitivity." David
Halberstam sneered that Harkins headed up "the great Saigon lying
At the academy, though, it was as if no ideal had been
disturbed, either by inadequate cadets or by inadequate
generals. In the mess hall on that 12th day of May, MacArthur
mesmerized the corps, striding about as he orated upon his most
precious stage, delivering every silky phrase he had practiced.
"The Long Gray Line has never failed us," the old general cried
out to the cadets. "Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive
drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their
white crosses thundering those magic words:
MacArthur came to his finale. He lowered his voice and raised
his eyes, standing still above his beloved cadets. "But in the
evening of my memory," he said, "always I come back to West
Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes:
He paused, as if, softly, he could hear the bugled strains of
Taps over the Hudson. "Today marks my final roll call with you,
but I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last
conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the
In the two years left to him MacArthur would maintain that such
rhetoric had merely occurred to him, that he "had no prepared
address." That mattered so much to the old soldier.
Unfortunately--wouldn't you know it?--there were mere 20th-century
men to tattle on him. But never mind. At times even the best men
succumb to vanity and temptation. If honor were painless to hold
on to and could always reside comfortably in our good grasp,
there would be no need for codes or confessions, nor for boys to
grow into men.
GOD, HOW DOUGLAS MACARTHUR LOVED ARMY FOOTBALL! HE COULD NEVER
GET ENOUGH OF HIS GRIDIRON WARRIORS
THE CODE WAS UNYIELDING: "A CADET WILL NOT LIE, CHEAT OR STEAL,"
IT DECLARED, "OR TOLERATE THOSE WHO DO"
LIKE TRUMAN AND MARSHALL (IN A CARTOON IN THE '50 ARMY-NAVY
PROGRAM), FANS ADMIRED WEST POINT'S PLAYERS
NOT ALL SOLDIERS RELISHED ARMY'S FOOTBALL SUCCESS. SOME PLAYERS
WERE CALLED "TRAMPS"--OR WORSE: DRAFT DODGERS
HARKINS, WHO WAS KNOWN AS THE RAMROD, HATED HOW FOOTBALL WAS
GLORIFIED AT AN ACADEMY FOR SOLDIERS
WHEN BOB BLAIK TOLD HIS DAD HE WAS IMPLICATED IN THE SCANDAL,
THE STUNNED COACH SAID, "HOW COULD YOU?"
"MY CONSCIENCE IS CLEAR," REICH SAYS. "I TOLD THE TRUTH--THAT I
VIOLATED THE HONOR SYSTEM--AND I HAD TO LEAVE"
MACARTHUR BELIEVED THE MATTER SHOULD HAVE BEEN HANDLED
DISCREETLY, WITH ONLY REGIMENTAL REPRIMANDS
CODE OR NO CODE, "IT'S HUMAN NATURE TO BE LOYAL TO YOUR FRIEND,"
SAYS REICH, WHO REFUSED TO NAME NAMES