BY NORMAN M. COVERT
Frederick, Md. — There is good news regarding the nearly 2,300 Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) soldiers, who volunteered to serve as medical research subjects for the U. S. Army at Fort Detrick, Md., and Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. from 1954-1973.
The second health survey in 20 years of these “White Coat” participants reveals they have suffered no adverse health effects some 57 years later and there appears “no significant difference” in health profiles of men of similar age and demographic status.
The U. S. Army and the SDA church honored the men in 1998 for heroically putting themselves at risk to serve mankind. White Coat volunteers took part in more than 16 research protocols, including related studies in biological protective and safety devices and equipment.
Findings in the new report were outlined at a medical briefing March 5, 2011 by Dr. Lawrence Beeson, associate professor of Epidemiology at Loma Linda (California) University School of Public Health. Dr. Beeson is heading the effort to complete a medical journal peer review in the fall.
A remarkable result showed 83 percent of the 535 respondents said they are in excellent to good health. The survey of 55-to-84-year-olds had a statistically significant 47.3 percent return rate.
Respondents took part in one or more of the sixteen human-use protocols under direction of the U. S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories at Camp and Fort Detrick, Md. These included: Q fever (first protocol); Anthrax, Yellow Fever, Plague, Tularemia and Chickungunya. There were no participant fatalities.
Their medical records are archived at Fort Detrick’s U. S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the National Archives and Records Administration Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Other information regarding the program is being gathered for retention in church archives.
Frederick, Md., surgeon Dr. Frank Damazo, M.D., took part in the oral presentation at Loma Linda University and provided historical perspective on the program, participants and its “military necessity.” He has been a liaison and church medical advisor for the White Coat program since moving to Frederick in 1956.
Dr. Damazo spearheaded efforts to recognize the service of these White Coat volunteers and to solicit empirical data about their two-year active duty service.
Until the Selective Service System (SSS) suspended “drafting” young men into military service in 1973, SDA members were classified as “1-AO,” or conscientious objectors. They were required to report for induction, but given the option of serving in non-combat jobs including medics.
“Thirty-eight years following the completion of the projects– and after two health surveys and the review of 133 deaths,” Dr. Damazo asserted, “we can say with considerable confidence that this American and Adventist cooperative effort was carefully conceived, competently performed and carefully monitored with no deaths or long term adverse effects on the health of 2,300 participants.
“(The program) provided the first and largest study of the human body’s response to vaccines and infectious diseases. Plus it confirmed the safety of 15 vaccines…still in use that have saved many thousands of lives.
“The favorable health survey reports make it more important than ever that we continue to monitor the (future) causes of death (among the veterans). That would become the ultimate evaluation of the project exposures.”
Dr. Beeson explained in a March 15, 2011 memo, “Both the first and second health surveys asked for a self-reported current health status. The different responses…were compared between those who had a specific exposure to those who did not have that exposure.”
The first health survey was conducted from 1991-92 by the U. S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick. U. S. Army Col. Phillip R. Pittman, M.D. , headed the project with contributors Sarah L. Norris, MPH; Kevin M. Coonan, M.D.; and Kelly T. McKee, Jr., M.D. MPH. It was published in Military Medicine (170, 3:183 2005).
“It is the goal of the current research team to publish in a similar manner the statistical analysis from the second survey,” Dr. Beeson continued, “It is difficult to predict when these results will be published…(it) is a very time-intensive process.”
Dr. Damazo agrees that this is verification of the extraordinary efforts taken to achieve valid human medical data in an environment of safety for all participants, including the local community.
Genesis of the White Coat program included heated discussions about human “guinea pigs” predating World War II, but guidelines were set in stone with the Feb. 26, 1953 decision allowing human volunteers in chemical and medical/biological research. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson’s signature allowed such research considering each volunteer subject is fully informed and is given the choice of participating.
The first approved human testing involved Pasteurella Tularensis (Tularemia) and took place among inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Each passed a rigid physical and was fully informed of the protocol and expected outcomes. Dr. Arnold G. Wedum of Camp Detrick was the first project coordinator. Col. (later Brigadier General) William D. Tiggert (M.D.) assumed control in 1955. Results were published beginning in 1961.
President Harry Truman strongly supported the Nuremberg Code, a 10-point manifesto adopted after the medical portion of the Nazi war crimes trials revealed the need for strict controls on human subjects in research. He recommended adoption of the policy to President Dwight Eisenhower.
U. S. Army Chemical Corps archives confirm that a large number of unsuspecting soldiers was subjected to testing with the hallucinogenic drug known as LSD at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground before the human use directive was signed. That also predated medical research work at the U. S. Army Medical Unit (USAMU), forerunner of today’s USAMRIID.
The clandestine LSD research was captured on 16mm film showing soldiers in both field and indoor environments after being given the drug without their knowledge or consent. It has been the subject of numerous television reports and is a recurring black eye for the Chemical Corps and its pioneering efforts at the Aberdeen facility.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also carried out clandestine research with such drugs as a part of a program secretly named Project MK-ULTRA. It was exposed after extensive news reports on the death of former Fort Detrick biochemist Dr. Frank Olson. He died after falling from the window of a New York City hotel in 1952.
Despite several investigations, some skeptics, including his sons Eric and Nils, continue to believe Dr. Olson’s death was part of a CIA conspiracy. His work with the CIA was a clandestine research effort, separate from his Fort Detrick duties, with the goal of developing LSD as a covert weapon.
The Biological Warfare Laboratories mission included learning about infectious disease, its origin, life cycle, and means of transmission. It also sought means of diagnosing, treating and preventing infectious diseases. Aside from the Ohio State trials, biomedical information until 1955 was limited to animal data.
The late BG Tigertt, first USAMU commander in 1954, and the late Col. Dan Crozier (M.D.) of Fort Detrick were exacting in setting up the Nov. 3, 1955 agreement with The Seventh-day Adventist Church. It followed the strictest guideline of “informed consent” for every soldier prior to the start of any research protocol.
BG Tigertt personally recruited the first classes of White Coat volunteers at the U. S. Army Medical Training Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The enlisted soldiers were undergoing advanced individual training to be combat medics. Each was assigned to regular military duties at Fort Detrick and Walter Reed Hospital when not taking part in a research protocol.
SDA volunteers brought healthy life styles to the White Coat Program. Most did not consume alcohol or use tobacco and adhered to the church’s dietary guidelines. These factors enhanced the dependability of data captured in the protocols.
USAMU, which grew from the former Walter Reed satellite health clinic at Camp Detrick, provided medical care for all military and civilian personnel and monitored “defensive research” protocols.
USAMRIID continues to be the world’s leading research campus on diseases of “military significance.” According to the Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines, the definition includes diseases which may be: 1. a threat to American military personnel as either a naturally occuring disease in a theater of war, or; 2. one which could be artificially introduced on the battlefield as a debilitating or killing agent.–©Norman M. Covert 2011
Background: (Nuremberg Code — Source Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10, Vol. 2, pp. 181–182. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949.)
(Copies of the first health assessment of White Coats may be obtained by writing U. S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, 1425 Porter Street, Fort Detrick, MD 21702-5011.)
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Mr. Covert was chief of public affairs and command historian for Headquarters U. S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, MD, from 1977 to 1999. He is author of “Cutting Edge, a history of Fort Detrick, Maryland” and has assisted in the production of numerous television and radio reports on the history of biological warfare.
You may contact Mr. Covert at firstname.lastname@example.org