Bob Jones had a heart attack on a Monday afternoon some months ago. It started with the sweats, and he said to the man he was talking to, "Do you think it's warm in here?" The man said, "No, I'm very comfortable."
Jones, 44, went out to his car, but he felt so bad that he went back inside immediately and sat down with his head in his hands. He thought, "This will pass me by." Then he felt the pressure building in the center of his chest, and he knew it wouldn't.
Just days earlier, Jone's 23-year-old son had called from West Point to disclose that he had cheated on an exam and was coming home to Hyattsville. Jones thinks this contributed to the heart attack.
At the hospital there was an additional crisis when Jone's wife, Margaret, a severe diabetic, suddenly went into insulin shock, apparently because emotions related to their son's West Point expulsion and the heart attack had led to lowered sugar in her system.
"Yes, it caused severe emotional problems in our home," said Jones, about their son's expulsion. "There's no question the whole family suffered, but we've adjusted back . . . "
The biggest cheating scandal in West Point's history resulted in the expulsion of more than 150 cadets and, like Bob Jones Jr., most returned home to share their private agonies with their families.
Perhaps a dozen of these cadets live in the Washington-Baltimore region. They are in college, or in the Army, or holding down jobs. They are waiting to see what the future holds, and whether they will be able to return to West Point.
While most want to return, this remains a personal question mark for each one despite the findings of a blue-ribbon panel that institutional defects at West Point were also largely responsible for the cheating.
The panel, headed by former astronaut and West Point graduate Frank Borman, recommended that the expelled cadets be returned "as soon as possible" and that steps be taken to insure they graduate normally and not be tainted by formal records of their experience.
But last Wednesday Army Secretary Martin R. Hoffman announced that, after studying the recommendations, he had decided that the cadets must wait until the beginning of the next academic year to return.
That means they will not graduate with their class of 1977, but with the class of 1978. Lawyers for the expelled cadets said fewer will return because of this.
For one thing, said the lawyers, 1978 class members may resent the returnees and make things tough on them. For another, the longer cadets are away from West Point, the more likely they are to settle on other courses of action.
Even following Hoffman's decision, however, it appears from conversations with some cadets and lawyers that more than half of the expelled cadets plan to return if possible.
Jones is one of them.He has been biding his time at Catholic University, where he is enrolled in engineering courses and serves as an assistant basketball coach. "I hope to God they give us guaranteed readmission," he said. "It's tough in civilian life when you don't have a degree. . . . You can't beat going to school, getting paid for it, and a five-year job afterward."
The Jones are a dream of a family - bright, sprawling with six children, hilarious, brimming with the joys and sadnesses of life.
They take you into their midst right away, and soon everyone is gobbling fried chicken and roaring with laughter as the father strides about, gesticulating with a certain crazy charm and recounting in his booming voice how he spent 17 days in critical condition, went into cardiac arrest twice, and that's called LIGHTS OUT, BROTHER.
But the father, a medical supply salesman, lived and returned home to the family he had loved and nurturned so carefully. He had grown up in Prince George's County, marrying his childhood sweetheart and sending his children to Catholic schools, though he could not afford it, because he though they offered the best education.
He had been in the Navy for a time back in the 50s. "The world's worst sailor," but otherwise had no contact with the military. When his son announced his intention to attend West Point, it came as a complete surprise.
This son was Bob Jr., the oldest. He had been a basketball star at St.John's, a Catholic military high school in Washington.We went on to play basketball for two years at LaSalle College in Philadelphia, but felt he was getting in a rut.
"So I called the coach up at Army just to see if a little politicking could get me in there," said the son with a grin. "Sports did help me get in there. It only took me five or six days to get in West Point."
Three years later, he was expelled for cheating, in which he openly concedes he participated. He was one of those caught. He said he knows hundreds of other cadets at West Point who cheated and didn't get caught.
When he called home that night to tell his parents what happened, he said, his father became agitated and advised him that if he was going to lie," to lie straight, and don't mess up your story."
The father remembers telling his son to "spill his goddam guts, don't hold back nothing."
THe family was plunged into a kind of confusion that, to some extent persists. The father remembers being depressed and feeling during that critical weekend before his heart attack a disappointment "deeper than anger."
"We still have a great respect for the institution (West Point)," said the mother, "and for their values. Their basic values are the same as in a family - discipline, understanding, Christianity. But with families, you bend. With the Army, you can't bend."
Mrs. Jones said she disapproved of one family that, she heard, had disowned their son after he was expelled for cheating.
She elaborated: "They're putting something that's not real ahead of their children. Raising children is an educational experience. You have to teacher them not only just to brush their teeth, but to cope with life . . . You can't just say here's the rules and everybody's going to obey them. It doesn't work that way."
The father doesn't believe that his son has disgraced the family, "If he'd murdered a guy or did something that disgraced us, my attitude (would be) different," he said. "I told one (Pentagon officer) on the phone. I don't see how you can get through four years at West Point without (cheating). If some general got through without it, I want to see his angel's wings."
He said the curriculum at West Point is so crowded and time is so short that the cadets run around "like robots."
Bob Jr. wonders if anyone who hasn't experienced West Point can understand how poisoned the moral atmosphere there was, how widespread the cheating. He wonders if even his parents, sympathetic as they care, can understand this.
"I went to West Point scared to death," he said. "The fact is, when you're a freshman and you see a senior breaking, the honor code, are you going to turn him in after he's been through four years of this stuff? And have the other seniors down on you? They'd set you up."
The family's concerns about their son are largely practical in nature. They know he is a good boy, but, said the father. "I'm very confused at this point. I wonder what is the answer for Bob - to finish up at Catholic University and get his engineering degree, or go back to West Point and take the five-year obligation."
"I get letters saying don't go back, they screwed you over," said Bob Jr. "But they didn't screw me, I screwed myself."
He added that the whole experience has brought them closer together as a family. "You ain't lyin'," said his younger brother, Michael, 16. "You're in my room again."
If his parents are not ashamed of their son, the son feels differently.
"I'm ashamed," he said.
"Sure," said his mother, "you have to be. At the same time, you weren't treated fair."
Bob Jr. said a cadet recently phoned him from West Point. This cadet was investigating others, but Bob Jr. said he knew this cadet himself had cheated and had not been caught. "I said, 'Hey, you know you're one of the biggest cheaters up there.' He started crying on the phone.Hesaid, 'They're gonna use you guy as scape-goats'."
"We've had people call," said the mother. "They ask questions, and you feel they want you to say something against the Army, to blast West Point. We don't feel that way at all."
"They've been building men (at West Point) for a long time," said the father, "so they gotta be doing some things right."
The hilarity rises as they discuss what to tell the callers looking for anti-Army quotes. Father: "Tell them. 'Oh, he died a few days ago. He spit shined himself to death'."
Their laughter comes in gales, so intense that tears roll down their cheecks.