Above: A Younger Rev. Austin Miles-3rd From R-Bottom Row – Photo Credit: A U.S. Army Photo
Written by Rev. Austin Miles
ST. LOUIS 2/11/16–The truth is finally out despite herculean efforts to conceal it from the public. Many young servicemen suddenly began to die in the U.S. without explanation. National Public Radio (NPR) just exposed, with verification, that the United States Government secretly employed chemical (medical) experiments on our young service personnel while they were in training.
The expose’ was then published by Columbia Journalism Review. This horrific act, which caused many deaths at U.S. military camps, was skillfully and deliberately hidden for many years. Over 4000 died. This began during World War II and continued through the Korean Conflict. At best, according to www.NPR.org, the non-voluntary participants developed medical problems such as skin cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, chronic breathing conditions, heart attacks, strokes and severe intestinal problems, not to mention depression leading to suicide. Some died immediately following the exposure to that chemical. Others died shortly after they were discharged. Their families never knew what happened.
It was not until 1993 that the documentation was declassified. This means that the public had little to no idea of the experiments or how they affected the recruits or their families. The records for this horror were secretly kept in a restricted building in St. Louis. One family demanded to see the records of a particular young soldier who had been seriously affected by the “secret assignment” at his army camp which left him with only a shell of his former self.
They were informed that: “Due to a fire in the records’ building, all the documents were burned.” Further inquiry brought the explanation that only a particular file cabinet was destroyed by the fire…..yes, the very file cabinet that contained those records.
The family referred to was my family. This writer was one of those young soldiers who had been voluntarily inducted, meaning that I essentially went in place of another who stayed home. We were processed at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, and then shipped to Ft. Riley, Kansas.
The training was tough, but I was willing and ready to give my best in the service of our country. After a few weeks, the lights were suddenly turned on in the barracks at 3 AM as uniformed officers stormed in, ordered us to get up, dress and go with them for a “special assignment.”
We were all taken to what seemed to be an abandoned barracks near the edge of the camp. The windows were painted black. After being herded inside, the doors noisily slammed shut
and locked from the inside. The officers all put on gas masks, then a hissing sound came from the walls. The smell was unmistakable. It was what turned out to be mustard gas.
I automatically held my breath. A hand roughly came down on my shoulders, “Breath!” yelled the officer….BREATH!! Then we were ordered to exercise. Those who hesitated, including myself, were yelled at to do as we were told or we would be court-marshaled for disobeying an order.
The mustard gas seared through my organs, burning two holes in the apex of each of my lungs. I was gasping for breath. Two young soldiers next to me dropped to the floor and died. Others collapsed. Those of us who survived were hustled out of the barracks.
I wound up in the base hospital along with others. I would soon after be discharged and sent home. But before being mustered out we were compelled to sign several papers. Then the final orders came: “If you reveal any of the secrets of The United States Army, you will be seized and shot for treason.” The secrets of course were the profoundly unethical medical experiments.
Most of the recruits died not long after they returned home. And until now (with this story out) their parents had no idea what happened to them.
The government had taken the most able-bodied recruits to experiment on, to see what damage the mustard gas with various strengths would do to very fit men. We were all human guinea pigs.
Almost immediately upon arriving home one of my lungs collapsed. It felt like a ton of concrete crushing my chest as I gasped for breath. When that lung came back up, the next lung collapsed. What is more, I could not get any medical help without telling what had happened to me and I had been warned that I would be shot for treason for “revealing the secrets.”
I would eventually find a doctor in Texas who was able to essentially glue my lungs to the chest wall so they couldn’t collapse. I was the very first to have such a procedure done.
This was followed by prostate cancer, a heart attack and a stroke. After several years I tried to get help at a V.A. Hospital. Nobody would even see me for over four years. Then a Korean doctor at the VA examined me and stated that the army owed me nothing, that this was a “pre-existing condition.” I kid you not.
Finally with the help of AMVETS, I was able to show that I was considered whole when I went into the army and labeled -1-A. Then overnight, after the night of the gassing, I was suddenly labeled 4-F.
It was when I tried to get my records that the mysterious fire broke out in St. Louis that destroyed the file cabinet that had them….so they said.
While going through the endless process at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, the army stated that I was lying, that it was TEAR GAS not Mustard Gas that they exposed us to so we would know what the smell was as part of our training.
As the government was denying this, Disabled American Veterans, DAV, sent their people to Ft. Riley to test the soil. Yes, they found the mustard gas sediments in the soil. They also found this evidence at several other army camps. Harry Truman was our president in those days. I’ve often wondered if he knew about this.
My digestive system was permanently affected; my body cannot really process any food I eat so I live mostly on liquids like Ensure to keep me alive. Pain is a constant companion. Even so, I am very active as a minister and chaplain with a special outreach to veterans.
I am a lifelong member of AMVETS and DAV. The VA Hospital has given me excellent care for which I am grateful. Even so, I should not have been stalled for so many years when I desperately needed help for life-changing injuries caused by the U.S. Army. Steps are now being taken to get the V.A. on track to be there for our veterans.
Author’s Final Note: Don’t try to find my army records. I served under my legal born name, then, in later years changed my name for professional reasons, and, it stuck.
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Rev. Austin Miles, a chaplain in Northern California is a writer and historian. He is the author of Santa’s Surprising Origins, a story that received worldwide circulation and resulted in him being cast in the 2004 Hallmark Christmas Movie titled, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus. He played the mall Santa who magically received the gift of sign language.