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DUTY, HONOR, BETRAYAL: How U.S. turned its back on poisoned WWII vets

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posted on Nov, 10 2004 @ 08:00 PM
The US, along with Canada and the UK, used their own troops as chemical warfare guinea-pigs. These troops were not informed of the nature of the experiments that were to be conducted on them, and were sworn to absolute secrecy.

DUTY, HONOR, BETRAYAL: How U.S. turned its back on poisoned WWII vets

As enlisted men, they were the military's lab rats
November 10, 2004


The room is small and cramped, like a vault. The soldiers are in full combat gear, rifles in hand, packs anchored on their backs. As the steel door slams shut, the men look about, this way and that.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Military data, families help provide clues to the testing

Test volunteers weren't given consent rights

Some U.S. allies used chemical tests

A look back
Memories of a grim secret
GRAPHICS (Adobe PDF format)

What mustard gas does
Inside the testing chamber
TIMELINE: A poisoned past
LOCATION MAP: Testing facilities

We'd like to hear what you think about the secret chemical tests conducted on soldiers. We'll publish some responses with Thursday's installment of the series.

We'll also publish some letters and e-mails (though not voice mail responses) on our editorial pages in coming days.

E-mail Write to Detroit Free Press, Veterans Project, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226. Or leave a message at 313-222-8851; please provide your full name and a phone number.

No autopsy, no proof of claim
William Weaver suffered burns in the groin area from the chamber tests, the same area where he had a fatal aneurysm in 1988.

His wife, Elsie of Irwin, Pa., said she called the VA years after hearing about the benefits available to chemical testing victims but was told she couldn't prove her husband's claim because his body had never been autopsied.

"They said there wasn't anything available for me," she said. "I'm getting pretty destitute here. I could use the money."

Someone once asked her husband why he volunteered for the Army testing. "Well," he said, "I was 18. When you're 18, you don't think you'll be dying of anything the government is going to give you."

'Money was always tight'
William Pipota never liked to talk about the chemical tests at Edgewood. He regaled his children instead with his Army job driving injured servicemen from Walter Reed Hospital to the White House during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. "He told me he had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt and took invalids and amputees to see the president," said Bill Pipota, his son.

But postwar life proved less grand for his father, who took over the family plumbing business in New York. He drank too much and was left without health-care benefits, just as emphysema, an illness linked to chemical tests, forced him to travel with an oxygen tank. He used Social Security to pay for medication, and his wife had to work late in life for extra income.

"Money was always tight," Bill Pipota said. His father died in 1978.

Burns marked war's horrors
John Berzellini, an asthmatic, choked and gasped for hours in a locked gas chamber as his mask filled with drool and mucus during the Army chemical tests at Edgewood. He pleaded with the scientist standing outside the chamber to be released -- a plea that was refused.

Afterward, the skin on his hands was shiny from burns, and he took to bed for weeks each winter with chest congestion. "My husband never talked about the horrors of war," said his wife, Irene. "He only talked about the funny stories. He never talked about what he saw. He wasn't like that."

Berzellini died of heart failure in 1995.

And the ground begins to hiss. Army Pvt. Sidney Wolfson notices it at once, a faint green aerosol seeping from the floor, rising in lazy corkscrews around his waist, arms and chest and across his eyes.

It's adamsite, what the troops come to know as puke stuff, a vomiting agent. The soldiers cower. They flop on their bellies and retch. Wolfson rises to leave, but can't. He pounds and pounds and screams for the doctors, but he can't leave. He can't get out!

"It's like I'm in jail," he says, quietly now. And he fidgets. Six decades after exiting the chambers of his youth, Sidney Wolfson sits in his Farmington condo and squirms. He is 85 and frail, but the dream is still vivid, the image keen.

He was young and fit once, part of the 1st Chemical Casual Company, a unit of 100 bright soldiers who struggled through chamber tests of mustard agent, lewisite, phosgene and other poisons on a military base near Baltimore in 1943.

Some are still struggling.

This is the story of patriots deceived -- not once but three times: first as young recruits, conned into entering chambers of lethal gas during World War II; then as war-hardened soldiers, shipped home with no warning of the time bombs lurking in their bodies; and finally as aging veterans, misled by a government that promised to find them, wherever they lived, and compensate those who were harmed.

"At no time after these experiments was I notified or told anything," said Franklin Smith, echoing the account of many men. "They shipped my butt over to the Pacific and that was the last I heard from the War Department."

By the end of World War II, the military had exposed more than 70,000 Army and Navy recruits to poison gases in various forms -- from swabs of mustard agent on their arms, to the more than 4,000 servicemen who marched into chambers or through fields soaked with chemicals. The mission was noble: to develop protective gear and ointments that would insulate troops from enemy chemical attack. The means were not: Officers deceived the men about the health risks and intimidated those who balked.

The recruits, many still teenagers, were sworn to secrecy. In the decades that followed, some of these veterans sought benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for illnesses linked to the tests. But the military had a ready reply: The tests never happened. Not until 1991, when four Navy vets swayed an influential congressman to their cause, did the Pentagon acknowledge the secret program and apologize. The government, at long last, vowed to make amends.

But the Free Press has found that Washington broke its promise. The VA, which pledged a painstaking effort to track down and compensate the men, contacted nobody. Not one letter. Not a single phone call -- even after the Pentagon turned over lists of thousands of potential victims. The VA relied mainly on unpaid public service ads in veterans magazines, even though the agency was aware that most veterans don't see those publications.

In recent years, a few veterans who did press claims were rebuffed -- often with form letters, and even when it was clear they had diseases linked to the wartime experiments.

VA Secretary Anthony Principi, who as deputy secretary in 1991 pledged to "do right" by the veterans, said in an interview last month he was unaware the veterans had been ignored.

"My assumption was that steps were taken to do what was possible to reach as many as we could find and to provide them with the benefits they've earned," he said. "If more needs to be done, it will be done."

The men of the 1st Chemical Casual Company represent only a sliver of the WWII recruits exposed to poison gases. But to the government, they are less than that. The unit does not even exist in Washington's official database on the testing program. It's almost as if they were never there.

But they were.

And 61 years later, they're still waiting for help.

Read on........

Please read Full Article

zero lift

posted on Nov, 11 2004 @ 01:17 AM
Its really quite insane what out goverments do. Especially to the people who trust them most.

posted on Nov, 11 2004 @ 08:58 AM
And there's more:


Cold War changes

As the Cold War shifted the focus of military research, Edgewood also evolved.

From 1950 well into the 1970s, Edgewood scientists -- concerned that the communists were developing truth serums -- began their own research into mind control. They began testing the effects of '___' and other hallucinogens on U.S. servicemen and civilians, often without their consent. It was not until the early 1970s that the military's treatment of its servicemen was seriously scrutinized as evidence also emerged that Americans were being mistreated in a variety government research -- from bacteria injected into children at an Ohio orphanage; to radiation exposure on prison inmates; to the Tuskegee Experiment, in which government researchers declined to treat 400 impoverished black men for syphilis so the scientists could monitor the course of the illness.

Like the World War II chemical program before them, the studies marked an unsettling shift in scientific research. With each new experiment, wrote medical ethicist David Rothman, clinical investigations were being designed "to benefit not the research subjects, but others."

Yet while dozens of government abuses were exposed, the World War II chemical tests remained shrouded in the decades-old vow of secrecy.

In the 1970s, a few Army and Navy veterans claimed illnesses they traced to chemical testing. But one by one, the Defense Department thwarted the claims by simply denying the experiments took place.

Most veterans accepted the rejections and faded away.

Nat Schnurman plowed on.

Finally, some answers
Schnurman, who lives on a bluff above the James River outside Richmond, Va., was sitting with his wife in his doctor's office one day in 1975, wondering why his body seemed to be breaking down at age 50. He had lung disease, hearing loss and vision problems. He had chronic pain in his legs, chest and stomach. After undergoing medical examinations for decades, he was at a loss to explain his faltering health.

His doctor, who by coincidence had once trained at Edgewood, asked Schnurman if he had ever worked with chemicals.

"No," Schnurman replied.

"Were you ever in the service?"


"Were you ever in any..." and here the doctor paused, "special programs?"

Joy Schnurman, who until then had known nothing of her husband's participation in mustard gas testing, recalls vividly what happened next.

"Nat just turned white as a sheet," she said. "And then the tears came and came, and out came the story."

Schnurman joined the Navy at 17 and was sent to Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Maryland, where volunteers were being recruited to test "summer clothing."

He was sent to a gas chamber at Edgewood six times in seven days. On his last visit, a blend of mustard gas and lewisite was piped in. Schnurman was overcome with toxins, vomited into his mask and begged for release. The request was denied. His next memory is of coming to on a snowbank outside the chamber.

He completed his Naval service, but his health steadily grew worse. He told no one of the tests at Edgewood until that 1975 doctor's visit.

Schnurman filed for benefits from the VA and spent the next 17 years pursuing records that would support his claim. Blocked at every turn by a bureaucracy that denied access to his files -- that denied in fact that he was ever at Edgewood -- Schnurman eventually collected box loads of documents.

His cause also benefited from renewed attention to chemical warfare in the late 1980s, most notably by Iraq's use of mustard gas on its own Kurdish population and in its war with Iran. In 1989, an Australian documentary, "Keen as Mustard," exposed how the Australian government denied the claims of its World War II soldiers because it did not want to reveal its role in human testing. That same year, a Canadian journalist exposed Canada's World War II program. In July 1990, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published the first of many stories on U.S. chemical gas veterans.

Around the same time, Schnurman's story caught the interest of producers at "60 Minutes" and Porter Goss, a Florida congressman. Goss, who is now CIA director, lobbied colleagues in Congress to compensate Schnurman and other World War II chemical volunteers for their illnesses.

But not until June 11, 1991, days before a "60 Minutes" expose on Schnurman's saga, did the Pentagon acknowledge the WWII program for the first time. The VA immediately announced it would compensate veterans who took part in chamber or field tests, or who were exposed to high levels of toxins in the production or transport of chemicals, for any of seven illnesses.

VA promises action
Because the military destroyed or hid many records relating to chemical testing, the VA also said it would relax the evidence required to prove an illness was linked to service. Under the new rules, veterans exposed to poisonous gases would only have to show they later suffered from laryngitis, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma or some eye diseases to win benefits.

The VA asked a committee of the National Academy of Sciences to see if any other diseases could be linked to the chemicals. Jay Katz, a Yale University law professor and ethicist, urged the committee to look beyond the medical literature and demand that the military track down every veteran, or his family, and warn them of the health risks. "The soldiers who 'volunteered' for these experiments had every expectation that they would be treated fairly by their officers and surely by the physicians," he wrote. "As doctors, we ask our patients to trust us, and this trust was manipulated, exploited and betrayed...You have no choice but to recommend that [the volunteers] be apprised of what had been done to them. Doing otherwise is an abdication of medical responsibility."

In January 1993, the committee issued "Veterans at Risk," a chronicle of the mistreatment of World War II chemical volunteers. The servicemen, the committee found, were recruited "through lies and half-truths."

"Most appalling," the committee wrote, "was the fact that no follow-up medical care or monitoring was provided for any of the World War II human subjects," for thousands of chemical warfare production workers or for the hundreds of military personnel who survived a mustard gas ship explosion in Bari, Italy, in 1943.

The committee urged the VA to identify "each human subject in the WWII testing program's chamber and field tests," as well as chemical production workers so they could "be medically evaluated and followed by the VA."

Even for dead veterans, "their surviving family members deserve to know about the testing programs, the exposures and the potential results of those exposures," the committee said.

The report also added to the list of diseases linked to testing: respiratory cancers, skin cancer, a variety of skin abnormalities, leukemia, chronic pulmonary disease, sexual dysfunction, and mood and anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report dismissed the argument that the exigencies of war justified the tactics used to recruit volunteers. The military's use of its own personnel in '___' and radiation programs "demonstrated a well-ingrained pattern of abuse and neglect," the panel concluded.

Upon the report's release, the Defense Department quickly accepted the recommendations, apologized, and pledged to help the VA find the men.

"The years of silent suffering have ended for these WWII veterans who participated in secret testing during their military service," declared Anthony Principi, then acting VA secretary.

The VA announced it already was taking steps to find veterans involved in the tests and grant them the benefits they deserved. The agency directed its regional offices to track Navy and Army claims involving chemical exposure. "This log should be kept current and available for random review," the directive said.

The VA asked the Defense Department for any rosters of servicemen involved in the tests. Once the names were gathered, the VA pledged to collaborate with the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to obtain current addresses for the veterans so they could be contacted directly. Valid claims could fetch up to $1,730 a month in disability, as well as free medical care. Widows also could qualify.

By early 1993, government assurances were plentiful and upbeat.

"Be assured this will not be treated as business as usual," President Bill Clinton declared in February 1993.

Nobody really knew how many WWII gas veterans and chemical workers were still alive.

"It may be in the tens of thousands," Goss told a House subcommittee. "That is an astonishing number of people to have gone through a process, which we have, as a government, officially denied ever happened."

But for many of the soldiers in the 1st Chemical Casual Company, the assurances were too late.

Albert Pike, who owned a medical supply store in Akron, Ohio, died of lung cancer and respiratory failure on May 8, 1990, 13 months before the military came clean.

He received no benefits for those diseases.

Pike, however, had received compensation for mustard burns shortly after the war. On Jan. 30, 1946, one day after he was honorably discharged, the VA awarded Pike a monthly disability pension of $11.50 for the burns.

During the long illnesses that killed him at age 67, Pike never contacted the VA to file a new claim. And for many years after "Veterans at Risk" was published, his family never heard from the government. But in 1998, his children said, Pike's widow received a letter from the military inquiring about his health. The answer was in Pike's VA file, if anyone had bothered to look. The VA had paid $450 for Pike's burial. It classified his death as "non-service related."

His widow was given a flag.


Dangerous testing went beyond vets

Orphans, prisoners among those used
November 11, 2004


In February 1953, the Pentagon issued tough new rules to protect people who took part in experiments. Military researchers were required to warn volunteers of the dangers involved and have them confirm in writing that they were not coerced.

The directive was blunt, uncompromising and humane.

And two months later, it was gutted.

In April 1953, the military helped the CIA launch a Cold War program known as MKULTRA, in which unsuspecting servicemen and civilians were given '___' and other psychedelic drugs to study their use as truth serums.

This cycle of government deception continued well into the 1970s, with thousands of Americans exposed to nuclear radiation, plutonium injections, chemical sprays from airplanes, open-air nerve agents and mescaline in secret tests.

The tests flouted the principle of informed consent in the Nuremberg Code, drafted after the Nazi war-crimes trials in 1947 as an ethical standard for human experimentation.

Sometimes the victims were military personnel. Often they were from society's most vulnerable populations: mentally ill people, prison inmates, poor or illiterate people, pregnant women, children who were retarded or orphaned, drug addicts or prostitutes.

"You've got to ask yourself, how did these scientists sleep at night?" said David Rothman, director of the Center for the Study of Society and Medicine at Columbia University and an expert on the history of human research.

The scientists slept, said expert Jonathan Moreno, by convincing themselves that their tests ultimately would save lives.

"They came to view their work as a patriotic thing to do," said Moreno, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Virginia and author of "Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans." "And they came to think that the volunteers knew what was going on, even if they didn't know all the details."

The Cold War tests mimicked many of the elements of the World War II chemical experiments. The soldiers exposed to '___', for instance, were lured with promises of liberty passes and a guarantee that they could avoid guard or kitchen duty if they remained silent.

During the Cold War, however, the CIA largely funded the tests. The spy agency was feverishly studying mind-control techniques amid reports that captured U.S. troops were being brainwashed in the Korean War and that Soviet and Chinese scientists were testing truth serums.

In the U.S. tests, Americans were surreptitiously given the hallucinogens '___' or mescaline; PCP (angel dust), a highly addictive anesthetic that can cause delusions and mood swings, or BZ, a hallucinogenic incapacitating agent. Many of the people tested suffered hallucinations, flashbacks and permanent personality changes. In one notorious case, a CIA operative slipped '___' into the after-dinner drink of Army biochemist Frank Olson in 1953. He grew increasingly agitated and paranoid. So the CIA shipped Olson to New York City to see a doctor. In the predawn hours of Nov. 19, 1953, Olson crashed through his 10th-floor hotel window onto 7th Avenue below. His death was ruled a suicide.

Olson's family did not learn that he was given '___' until 1975. Relatives eventually received a $750,000 settlement and an Oval Office apology from President Gerald Ford. They continue to assert Olson was pushed to his death, a charge the CIA has denied.

The agency destroyed its MKULTRA records in 1972.

During the Cold War, the government also exposed tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen to radiation in tests designed to gauge troop readiness during nuclear attack. Recruits were positioned within a mile or so of a nuclear detonation and told to cover their eyes. They reported that even with their eyes shut they could "see the bones in their forearms at the moment of the explosion."

They were never warned of the long-term dangers of radiation exposure. Indeed, the majority were not even classified as research volunteers; they were merely soldiers engaged in training exercises, according to Moreno.

Studies later linked the "atomic soldier" tests with inoperable cancer or leukemia.

Government research abuse was not confined to the military.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, a series of scandals in academic and government research studies on institutionalized patients with mental illness, orphaned children, and the impoverished sparked outrage, most notably in 1972 when the Tuskegee syphilis study was exposed. In that case, government scientists deliberately withheld penicillin from illiterate black men for decades to study the course of the disease.

"There was a kind of vague understanding among researchers that anyone being taken care of in a charitable institution had a moral obligation to give something back to society," Moreno said.

The scandals produced wide-ranging reforms in federally funded testing, including the requirement of independent peer review.

In 1976, Ford signed an executive order banning intelligence agencies from using humans in drug experiments without their informed, written consent. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan later expanded the order to all human tests.

"What went on back in the 1950s and '60s could not go on now," Rothman said. "Are there aberrations? Yes. Are there guys who approach or cross the line? Yes. But you cannot now infect mentally retarded children in institutions with hepatitis to study it; it can't be done. In the war against disease, the lines are much more clearly drawn."

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