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Code Breakers
Frank Deford
November 13, 2000
FIFTY YEARS AGO RED BLAIK'S FOOTBALL POWERHOUSE AT ARMY WAS DECIMATED BY THE LOSS OF PLAYERS WHO VIOLATED THE MILITARY ACADEMY HONOR CODE. BUT WHO REALLY ACTED DISHONORABLY?
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November 13, 2000

Code Breakers

FIFTY YEARS AGO RED BLAIK'S FOOTBALL POWERHOUSE AT ARMY WAS DECIMATED BY THE LOSS OF PLAYERS WHO VIOLATED THE MILITARY ACADEMY HONOR CODE. BUT WHO REALLY ACTED DISHONORABLY?

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Al says, "We're all in the same boat. That's why there are confessions."

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 victory.

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 bastards."

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 yesterday."

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 battlefield."

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 machine."

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: Duty...Honor...Country."

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: Duty...Honor...Country."

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