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Lt. Gen. Sidney Berry dies at 87; decorated combat vet led West Point

Retired Lt. Gen. Sidney Berry, who was awarded Silver Stars in Korea and Vietnam, led West Point during a cheating scandal and oversaw admission of the first female cadets in 1976.

10:28 PM EDT, July 18, 2013

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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Sidney Berry, a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam and Korean wars who led the U.S. Military Academy during a turbulent period in the 1970s when a cheating scandal rocked West Point months before he was forced to admit the first female cadets, has died. He was 87.

Berry died July 1 of complications from Parkinson's disease at a retirement home in Kennett Square, Pa., said his daughter, Nan Berry Davenport.

In 1974, Berry, at age 48, was named superintendent of West Point. He had graduated from the academy in 1948, served in Korea and Vietnam, and was wounded in both conflicts. He received four Silver Stars for heroism in combat.

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In spring 1976, the merits of the academy's venerable code of honor were debated when a major cheating scandal erupted. After instructors learned that some students had collaborated on a take-home electrical engineering exam, more than 200 third-year cadets were accused of violating the code, which states: "A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate those who do."

An internal review panel at West Point suggested that the code demanded "unattainable human behavior" and, as a result, standards should be loosened. Berry disagreed.

"I've never been in more of a combat situation than I am now," Berry told Time magazine in summer 1976. "There are things that make me heartsick in the whole situation — so many young men may have violated the honor code. But, by God, I've been heartsick in battle and done what I have to do."

Change did come to the academy: The review process was revised to allow for a range of penalties rather than outright expulsion. And of the 152 cadets who were expelled for violating the code, 98 were later reinstated.

In July 1976, the first female cadets arrived on the sprawling campus on the Hudson River's west bank, 50 miles north of New York City.

Congress had passed a law in 1975 ordering West Point, along with the Naval and Air Force academies, to begin admitting women. Berry initially opposed the appointment of women to the academy. He reasoned that West Point was where the Army trained its officers to lead combat troops, and at that time women weren't allowed to serve with combat units.

Berry soon labeled his reaction "adolescent." He moved forward, saying, "I got over it and decided to do what a good soldier does — get on with the job."

He devised adjustments to West Point's training program that included allowing female cadets to learn karate and judo instead of boxing and wrestling, and to carry a lighter M-16 rifle instead of the standard M-14.

After finishing his three-year tour as superintendent in 1977, Berry was reassigned to command the Army's V Corps in Europe. He retired from active duty in 1980.

Sidney Bryan Berry was born Feb. 10, 1926, in Hattiesburg, Miss. At 18 he accepted an appointment to West Point rather than enlisting during World War II.

In 1950, he was sent to South Korea, where he received battlefield promotions to captain and major and was awarded two Silver Stars.

He earned a master's degree in international relations from Columbia University in 1953 and served as a military assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara from 1961 to 1964.

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Berry earned two more Silver Stars in Vietnam, where he commanded combat units in the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division.

Upon concluding his military service, he returned to Mississippi and became public safety commissioner. During his tenure he admitted women to the state's highway patrol.

Berry's survivors include his wife of 64 years, Anne; two daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren.

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