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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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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 shame.

"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?"

"Knew what?"

"That people didn't judge you then when you told them."

Al mulls over that for a second. "Were you ashamed of me?" he asks.

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."

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