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March/April 2007

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Project 112/SHAD REPORT
Larry Pilkinton, 1938-2007

BY JACK ALDERSON, CHAIR

Larry Pilkinton served with the Project SHAD Technical Staff. I first met him when the light tugs were reorganized, and I and other new crew members reported in October 1964. The following is an excerpt from his obituary: “In 1964 he was selected for Project 112/SHAD, which was a top-secret project of chemical and biological warfare tests. He had various duties for SHAD, and in addition to his laboratory research work, he was assistant safety officer and exposed to many agents. He was injured in the line of duty but could not receive a medical discharge due to the top-secret nature of his duties. So after serving almost 13 years, he received an honorable discharge from the Navy.”

Now for the rest of the story: Larry was not on board the light tugs (LTs) but was assigned as part of the laboratory and support staff. After returning from the test called Shady Grove, Larry was sent to Hawaii’s Big Island as part of a land test. He told me that he was loading bomblets with nerve and biological agents. The next thing he knew was when he woke up back in Oahu at Tripler Army Hospital.

When we heard that he had been injured, a couple of the crew went to see him. However, they were denied entry by a Marine stationed outside his room. The next time we were in port we were informed he had died and that his family had shipped back to the mainland. Everyone on the staff thought of him dead, including those who worked closely with him.

It came as a great shock then when I received an e-mail from him in March 2006. He had read one of these columns in The VVA Veteran. In talking with him and his wife, Doreen, he told me that he had been shipped to Oaknoll Naval Hospital and placed in the psychiatric ward. He was told that he had a prior mental illness and his security clearance was revoked. His medical records had no indication he was part of the SHAD staff. Rather than going back to being a regular hospital orderly, he preferred to leave the Navy and restart his life as a civilian.

The Project SHAD Technical Staff members were carefully selected and all had final secret security clearances and, periodically, interim top secret. This means that background investigations had been performed. Why had this not come up with evidence of his prior mental illnesses? Why were his medical records devoid of PSTS information?

Agent Orange Committee chair Buzz Sawyer noted, “Larry died on February 13. Many of us feel his demise was related to the latent effects of his exposure to chemical and biological weapons on the Big Island in 1966. Because of the classified nature of his work, he died without establishing service connection to his illness or survivor benefits for his widow. The VA would only consider his prior mental illness.”

Sawyer added, “It is truly a shame that agencies of our government hide behind the veil of “national security” to cover up and block requests for information that may aid veterans in their quest for their rights. They check out our backgrounds thoroughly. But they obfuscate and they lie, and it is the veteran who gave honest and upright service who is hurt.”

It just ain’t right.

THE LIVING WEAPON
On February 5, PBS’s American Experience broadcast an hour-long documentary on 112. “The Living Weapon” was, we were informed, supposed to reveal new information. We were misinformed. It was mostly just a rehash. Toward the end, there was a short scene that showed three of the LTs. They said the targets were barges with monkeys on board but said nothing about the sailors involved.
One other new piece of information: Add St. Louis and Minneapolis to the list of cities that were targeted in biological simulant tests.

Chair: Jack Alderson. Members: Jack Barry, Tom Berger, Norm LaChapelle, Rich Levesque, Bob Maras, John Olsen, and Buzz Sawyer. Staff Coordinator: Bernie Edelman.

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