That plebe, of course, had been Douglas MacArthur, back in the 19th century.
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 code.
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 Force instead.
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 quality people."
"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.