Sidney Berry led men into combat in two wars and was wounded in both conflicts, yet the most trying period the highly decorated officer faced in a distinguished Army career occurred during his stint as head of the U.S. Military Academy, when a cheating scandal roiled West Point just before the first female cadets arrived on campus.
“That was the most difficult assignment he ever had in his life because it was such a difficult time,” his daughter, Nan Berry Davenport, told The Associated Press Thursday.
She said her father, a retired lieutenant general, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on July 1 at a retirement home in Kennett Square, Pa., outside Philadelphia. He was 87.
Berry was superintendent of the academy in 1976 when a major cheating scandal engulfed West Point, with 152 cadets eventually expelled for violating the academy’s code of honor. The scandal particularly pained Berry, a member of West Point’s Class of 1948 and a former history instructor at the academy.
“I’ve never been in more of a combat situation than I am now,” Berry told Time magazine in 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.”
A few months after the scandal broke, the first female cadets arrived on the sprawling campus on the Hudson River’s west bank, 50 miles north of New York City.
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.
Davenport said her father, ever the professional soldier, eventually got with the program, then worked to make develop certain accommodations for the women, including overseeing the designing of new uniforms for the female plebes, West Point’s term for freshmen.
“He changed his opinion and then he went out of his way to do the very best he could,” said Davenport, of Wetmore, Colo.
Berry was born on Feb. 10, 1926, in Hattiesburg, Miss. He accepted an appointment to West Point rather than enlist during World War II. A year after graduating from the academy, he married Anne Florine Hayes, a member of a Quaker family whose ancestors settled in Chester County, Pa., in the early 1700s. Assigned to the 35th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, his unit was headed to Japan for training when the Korean War broke out in June 1950.
Sent to South Korea instead, the young second lieutenant’s company was in the thick of the fighting for weeks. By the time his wife and the wives of some of the other officers arrived in Japan after a three-week ship voyage, many of Berry’s comrades were dead, his daughter said.
“She learned how to be an Army wife real quickly,” Davenport said.
Berry was awarded two Silver Stars in Korea, where he received battlefield promotions to captain and then major. He earned two more in Vietnam, where he commanded combat units in the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division.
In addition to his wife and Davenport, Berry is survived by another daughter and a son. Davenport said a memorial service will be held Aug. 3 at the Romansville Meeting House, near Kennett Square. Inurnment was held at a Romansville cemetery.