- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

A select group of Seventh-day Adventists reunited in Frederick, Md., this weekend to reminisce about how pacificism and patriotism led them to volunteer as test subjects for Army experiments from 1954 to 1973.

Called “Operation Whitecoat,” the Army experiments tested protective gear and decontamination processes, as well as the effects of hypothermia and sleep deprivation.

Some volunteers were exposed to diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid fever — even the plague — but none died and few, if any, suffered abnormal health problems, according to a recent report on the tests.

About 2,300 draft-eligible Seventh-day Adventists volunteered to participate in the experiments, rather than violate their religious beliefs about nonviolence.

“This was just our way to serve the country without bearing arms,” said George Shores, 63, of Hagerstown.

Mr. Shores joined about 1,000 other former volunteers in the 30th anniversary reunion of Operation Whitecoat participants at a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Frederick. The weekend reunion ends today.

The secret experiments were conducted near Frederick at Camp Detrick (now Fort Detrick), where Dr. Frank Damazo has served as a liaison between the Army and the church since 1954, when he was a surgeon on the military base.

Dr. Damazo said the reunion is both an emotional and educational experience for the former volunteers.

“This year, we [were] determined to give them the answers to their medical questions and make them aware of the good they have done for society by participating in these projects,” said Dr. Damazo, a board member of the Whitecoat Foundation, a group of Adventists who participated in the experiments.

At the start of the Cold War in the early 1950s, Army researchers focused on how to thwart Soviet weapons that used chemical and biological agents. Meanwhile, Adventists — who were entering the draft only as noncombatants — were crowding the Army’s corps of cooks, medics and other noncombat jobs.

In 1953, the Army and the church reached an agreement that would allow Adventists to participate in biological experiments. They were considered good test subjects because their religious practices, which include bans on tobacco and alcohol, produced a healthy lifestyle and provided a solid base for assessing the experiments’ effects.

Operation Whitecoat tests began in 1954 and ended in 1973; the draft ended a year later. Fort Detrick since has become the Army’s central biological warfare research center.

During the 1998 reunion, the veterans were presented with medals and certificates of appreciation from members of Congress.

Mr. Shores, a test subject from 1962 to 1964, said he was placed in a glass room that resembled “an old telephone booth,” where he inhaled air contaminated with tularemia, a highly infectious bacteria. It can spread easily and quickly lead to illness and death.

“I was only really sick for three days,” Mr. Shores said. “Those were the days I experienced the full-blown stages of the disease. It hurt to breathe during those three days. I mean, even your teeth and gums hurt.”

Kenneth Jones, 69, of Bakersfield, Calif., doesn’t recall the exact date in 1954 when he was exposed to Queenland fever, but he has vivid memories of it.

“I will never forget the catwalk that led to the large steel sphere they called the ‘Eight Ball,’ where I would be exposed,” Mr. Jones said. “However, I never got sick from my test.”

Queenland fever, an acute airborne disease, usually incapacitates victims for two to four weeks. Symptoms include sore throat, cough, pneumonia and fever. In severe cases, it can destroy heart valves.

“Since my involvement with the projects, I have not had any health complaints, and my wife and I were able to raise three healthy children,” Mr. Jones said. “And if I was asked to volunteer again today, I would.”

A new Army report said that most Operation Whitecoat participants have not suffered abnormal health problems as a result of the experiments. In fact, 87 percent of 522 former volunteers who responded to a questionnaire reported that their health was good or excellent.

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