Whitecoats to be featured on PBS

By: George Johnson, NAD Associate Communication Direct
Date: 01/17/07
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PBS will air a film entitled "The Living Weapon" on the history of biological
weapons on February 5. Dr. Frank S. Damazo, Whitecoat Foundation board member
and member of the Frederick, Md., Seventh-day Adventist Church, received this
information this week and was told by the producer that "the Whitecoats will be
featured prominently" in the film. Please check the PBS web site at www.pbs.org
to see what time the film will be aired in your area or visit

A brief history of Operation Whitecoat
During the 1950’s, hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist men aged 18-26 were being
drafted into military service. They wanted to serve their country and cooperate
with compulsory military service but still be obedient to the Scriptures which
as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian included Sabbath keeping and
noncombatancy. In late 1954, the US Army Medical Unit (USAMU) and the office of
the surgeon general of the US Army met with officials of the Seventh-day
Adventist Church with a highly unusual request. The two entities wanted to see
if the Seventh-day Adventist Church was willing to support an Army proposal to
use Adventist draftees as volunteers for human trials of defensive vaccines and
antibacterial medicines.

A subcommittee was formed and within weeks a favorable endorsement was given
and entitled “Statement of Attitude Regarding Volunteering for Medical
Research” and was forwarded to the USAMU. The four-paragraph statement
concluded that “any service rendered voluntarily by whomever in the useful
necessary research into the cause and treatment of disabling disease is a
legitimate and laudable contribution to the success of our nation and to the
health and comfort of our fellowmen.” Thus Operation Whitecoat was born.

Soon after USAMU personnel began interviewing draftees for Operation Whitecoat
during the basic training at Fort Sam Houston, meetings were held that gave an
overview of the research program along with a description of its benefits and
risks. Seventh-day Adventist Church representatives were also on hand to
describe its relationship with the Whitecoat program. USAMU based selections of
the draftees on overall general health and skills acquired in civilian life.
Most who were chosen to participate had also completed one or more years of
college and 27 percent having completed a bachelor’s degree. Whitecoat members
were then assigned to Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, to the Walter Reed
Army Medical Center, or to the Center Annex in Forest Glen, Maryland, as
medical research volunteers. Their duties included medical technicians, medical
corpsmen, clinical aides, or animal caretakers.

During its 19-year-long existence, Operation Whitecoat members were tested with
some of the world’s most dangerous biological agents such as Queenland (Q)
Fever, Tularemia, Sandfly Fever, Typhus Fever, Typhoid Fever, Rift Valley
Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Yellow Fever, Plaque and Eastern, Western
and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. The “Eight Ball,” a huge, spherical
chamber at Fort Detrick, was a chamber in which scientists would discharge
bacteria or viruses. Whitecoat volunteers wore breathing apparatus that allowed
them to inhale the affected air. USAMU records maintain that although the
volunteers were made seriously ill, none died during the studies nor were there
documented permanent health damage.

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