The Shame Of Scandal Clouds Navy Academy Lives Were Hurt, A Tradition Blemished.

Posted: April 14, 1994

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Lewis Sims - his buttons gleaming, his uniform creased sharply as a sword - falls into formation on the beige brick courtyard that curls out from Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy.

The color guard clicks and turns, the breeze lifting its flags. As the band thunders through "Anchors Aweigh," Sims and Company 10 march into the hall. Lunch is served at the clang of a ship's bell, to the shuffle of black patent leather shoes.

Some midshipmen greet Sims with a pat on the back and, "Gee, I'm sorry, Lewis," while other brush-cut heads shoot him a cold eye.

Lewis Sims, a broad-shouldered young man raised on a southern Mississippi pig farm, is caught in a bitter fall from grace. He is one of 29 midshipmen who last week were recommended to be expelled in the worst cheating scandal in Naval Academy history. After four years of push-ups, 6.7 hours of sleep a night, 26.2 hours a week of studying, Sims is being banished from a campus where the bones of John Paul Jones are guarded by Marines.

"It's like being a man with a country that doesn't want him," said Sims, who sat with a bottle of beer in a pub as sailboats docked just off the Severn River. "All that energy over four years is coming to nothing. All I want to do is leave here. But I have to wait for the secretary of the Navy to give his final ruling. It's like being stuck in limbo. They tell you to go to class, but there's no motivation."

Sims and others being expelled may be required to repay the $80,000 that the Navy spent educating them or to serve three years as enlisted men.

But the toughest part, said Sims, who must fall in daily for reveille at 6:30 a.m. and be back to Bancroft Hall by taps at midnight, is trying to explain away the stain that ruined a naval career.

"The hardest thing will be going home to answer the questions from all the aunts, uncles and friends who want to know what you're doing home," he said.

While the rest of the Class of '94 prepares for its May 25 graduation, the plight of Sims and 28 others seems almost unimaginable in a place where "the right stuff" and status are deeply treasured. The sting of disgrace was most painful, said several, when one by one, offenders were called from their companies and read aloud their sins and penalties by a naval review board.

"They've given up the greatest opportunity," said Laura Herath, a senior who will train to be a helicopter pilot. "They won't be part of our class. In our yearbook, The Lucky Bag, they'll be listed on the last page as 'Those we left behind.' That page just grew by 29 names."

All across this campus, where white caps are pulled tight and steps are brisk and straight, midshipmen will tell you they live and die by the Code of Honor: "Midshipmen are persons of integrity. They do not lie, cheat or steal."

The breadth of the scandal, which arose in 1992 when an electrical engineering exam was stolen, copied and sold, showed to many here that the honor code had become more of a mantra than a way of life. The scandal and other naval embarassments, such as the Tailhook incident, forced the 4,100 midshipmen and administrators at the Academy into 16 months of soul-searching.

Though a 1993 report found an "increasingly cynical attitude" among midshipmen, authorities now say honor is being restored as the centerpiece of the 149-year-old institution. A Marine colonel has been put in charge of a character development office. Essays will be written on integrity and values. And midshipmen have been debating all sorts of ethical issues, from the trivial (Did you make your bed?) to the more significant (Do you turn in your buddies if they break the honor code?).

Retired Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, an Academy graduate and a Vietnam POW, said that there is no excuse for violating the honor code, but that the Academy should not become so rigorous that midshipmen are tempted to cheat.

"We have to subject these people to pressure," he said. "The principle here is to produce Eisenhowers and MacArthurs. . . . When I see midshipmen cheat, the first thing I ask myself is, 'Hey, did we let the level of temptation rise above the confidence and self-discipline we are supposed to be instilling in them?' "

*

Lewis Sims, a strong safety for Navy's football team, used to be able to sleep through thunderstorms.

But the last two years of four investigations and honor review boards have made him edgy.

"Every time someone knocks on the door or the phone rings, you jump up in your bed," said Sims. "You just don't know what the future is. When the company officer knocks at the door, I jump right up."

Sims is charged with lying to the honor board about his involvement in cheating on the exam in electrical engineering, considered the toughest course on campus and nicknamed "Double E." When he first appeared before the honor board in 1993, he was found not guilty of cheating. Things changed when the Office of the Investigator General, under pressure from politicians, began its investigation of the scandal.

"They treated us like crap," said Sims. "I wouldn't talk to them. I took the Fifth Amendment."

Forty-eight midshipmen have filed a civil lawsuit against the government over allegations that midshipmen were denied attorneys and due process during interrogation.

The investigator general's investigation found that 133 midshipmen were involved in the scandal. Of those, a five-member special Honor Review Board recommended that 42 be reprimanded and that 29 others be expelled. The final decision will be made by Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, who is reviewing the cases. Decisions to expell or reprimand were based on whether midshipmen came forward or tried to cover up their involvement.

Sims, who was valedictorian at Moss Point High School in Mississippi, said he did not cheat or lie.

"They wanted me to name names and point fingers at other guys," he says, ''But I didn't do that. I never betrayed the loyalty of my guys. A lot of guys turned into rats, and I wouldn't want to go into battle with them."

When asked what was more important - loyality to a few midshipmen or the broader question of honor to the Academy, Sims said:

"That's a good question. I don't know the answer. They want things black and white. But there is always some gray."

Unless he is forced to serve three years as an enlisted man, Sims said he hopes to enroll in another college to finish his senior year. He plans to go to law school, but each day worries that the Navy will force him to pay back the $80,000.

"I just don't have that money," he said, later adding, "The Academy is not the be-all or end-all. There's no reason to be mad. I've had three years of good education and four years of Division I football. No one can take that away. When you come from a pig farm in Mississippi, you can't look back. . . . But I still think I would have made a good officer."

If honor had a face, it would be that of Todd Huber, who sat with his double-breasted coat tightly buttoned, his chin jutting out over his black tie and white shirt.

Huber has risen through the Academy and will be awarded the chance to fly Navy jets - an opportunity reserved only for the best. Huber said he has little sympathy for those who violated the honor code and who now accuse the Navy of browbeating them.

"We believe," he said, "that midshipmen hold honor and integrity to be more important than Joe Public. We understand we're going to be officers and leaders in the Navy. We are given special trust and confidence. We are entrusted with lives. . . . Those people decided to compromise their integrity. That's something they'll have to live with."

Sean Fahey, the 21-year-old brigade commander for all 4,100 midshipmen, said the scandal "made us check a lot of our premises. You come in from 18 years from a society that does not stress morality. . . . So we (at the Academy) have to get down and try (to) instill it and study it and go into the fog of ethics."

Fahey and Huber said many midshipmen were demoralized to discover who was involved in the scandal.

"There's a lot of surprise," said Huber. "These are not evil people. Some of them are very big and very important on campus. To see someone you look up to being involved, that hurts us."

Huber, who quotes Thoreau and Chuck Yeager, said he knows what honor means outside the walls of the Academy.

"I was in Washington, D.C., and got two parking tickets," he said, "I wrote to the judge and said my only defense is that I'm a midshipman from Annapolis and that I believe in honor. I told him that I was not parked illegally and had been wrongly given the tickets."

The tickets were dropped.

Near the outfield of a darkened baseball diamond, Chris Rounds walked toward a street light. Like Sims, Rounds is being expelled, and everytime he falls into formation, it is a reminder of all that's been lost.

He was born in West Memphis, Ark., into a family that had none of Navy pedigree he would find common among midshipmen.

"I found it very had to adjust," Rounds said. "A lot of guys here come

from money and have Navy in their history. I didn't have that."

Those connections, he said, are well-known on campus.

"I accept being kicked out," he said, as a strong wind blew off the water. "But they should have kicked out everyone involved. If this is an honor code let's stand by it. It's blatantly unfair to kick out 29 and keep 71. That's political."

He walked away from the street light - a fallen member of the 25th Company - and into the night toward Gate 8.

"A big part of my life is the Navy," he said. "It's gone. I'll have to move on."

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