A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

April/May 2002

EYEWITNESS TO SHAD

Jack Alderson, a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, was one of the principal individuals involved in the original series of SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense) tests in the Pacific in 1965. He has spent the better part of the last decade lobbying Congress and the media about the necessity of taking another look at these experiments and trying to find a way to help the men who developed health problems. Vietnam Veterans of America arranged for him to make a presentation to Capitol Hill staffers on March 19. What follows are some of his remarks.  

Five Army Light Tugs (Lts) were the test targets for Project Shady Grove. I was the officer in charge of those five tugs.  

Each tug had a crew of eleven. We were ordered in to operate the tugs for SHAD. They had tried to do it just a few months before. They could not get the degree of confidence to go ahead and do the testing. One reason was that presidential approval was required. 

Also, when you're doing a biological test, you cannot order people in, according to the law. Eisenhower passed a presidential edict that said only volunteers will be part of biological and chemical testing. We were ordered in. The Department of Defense claims we were not test subjects, we were test conductors - the monkeys were the test subjects.  

The Defense Department has gone back and forth. It said we were all part of Autumn Gold. When I started asking questions, they said, “Oh, there wasn't a Project SHAD. They were all part of Autumn Gold.” Well, the final report from Autumn Gold was dated April 1964. I didn't report to Project SHAD until September 1964.  

When we got to Pearl Harbor, we found five LTs tied up there. There were a couple of engineers on board. We got everybody down on the peer. Crews were assigned by, “All you electrician mates, stick up your hand. You go to that tug, and you go to that tug.” That's how we put them together. We had to move the tugs immediately. Remember, these guys had never been on tugs before. The marine architect who designed this tug said it was the first one that he had ever designed and the worst job that he'd ever done in his life. They were not supposed to go to sea. But that's where we took them.   

We started our training and our inoculations.  Because we tested live biological weapons at sea, we were inoculated against catching anything from those weapons. We completed our training in late November. They said we would be going to Johnston Island, and we should be ready and underway by January 2, 1965. 

January 2nd, the tugs were loaded, ready to go, and we went on four-hour standby. A couple of days later, we went to eight-hour standby, then we went to 12, then we went to 24-hour standby. The problem was that we had to have presidential approval.  

Let me back up just a little bit.  Project SHAD under Deseret Test Center was not the Navy or Marine Corps. We worked directly through the Joint Chiefs of Staff  (JCS). There was a direct line from JCS through Deseret to us. McGeorge Bundy walked around the White House with the order for our operation in his coat pocket until he found Lyndon Johnson in a good mood. Then he whipped it out and got it signed on January 21. We got under way on January 22 and proceeded to Johnston Island.   

One of the reasons Johnston Island was picked is that it's surrounded by 2,000 miles of sea. There is nothing else out there. It has an air strip. And it already had top-secret clearance. There had been families there, but it's too hard for the families. So all we had out there was a classified base.    

The LTs came into the area, were outfitted, and then went to sea.  The U.S.S. Granville S. Hall was our parent ship. The tugs would go alongside to pick up the test subjects, the rhesus monkeys.  The tugs were assigned to a spot on a grid. They were in that position at sunset. The Granville Hall was off to one side. The command control aircraft was in the air with a radar. The Marine Corps would take off with four A-4 Skyhawks, two of them with supporting capabilities, disseminators. One would disseminate the agent, and one would probably disseminate the trace elements that were being used.   

The A-4s took off from Johnston downwind. The reason that they took off downwind was because if they took off upwind and had a crash, then the agent would come back down on the island.  

We conducted tests through January, February, and March. We had no accidents. We met 100 percent of our commitments. At the completion of those, we returned to Pearl Harbor. 

Before the operation, we would pick up the test subjects. We would line up on the grid and get sprayed. We would leave the test subjects outside in cages while the crew were inside in the citadel. We had filters for the air coming inside, but we knew, because we had accumulators in the interior, that we had leaks. We did get agents inside.  

Prior to morning twilight, we brought the monkeys down to the laboratory area. Then three sailors, usually the chief quartermaster and two petty officers, went through the exterior decontamination. They said that we should be in protective clothing. I didn't know that cotton coveralls and a gas mask constituted protective clothing. These guys were decontaminating the exterior of the ship wearing cotton coveralls and gas masks. 

When they finished with the decontamination of the exterior of the vessel, we used HTH (calcium hypochloride), which we find out now, 35 years later, will give you respiratory problems. The three guys would come back, go to the decon station exterior, take off all their clothes, hose each other down, take their clothes and put them in a GI can, tape the GI can closed, and fire off a cylinder of ethylene oxide in there.  There would be contact of about eight to ten hours of ethylene oxide until the next day when they would take the coveralls out and use them again.   

In July 2000, Time magazine reported that ethylene oxide is carcinogenic. It gives you leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.   

After we had been through two or three short tests, we would bring the tugs in and give them a thorough decontamination on the interior, because we knew there were leaks. When we tied up at Johnston Island, we would use what we called challengers filled with beta-propriolactone and formaline, a type of formaldehyde. This was then aerosoled and circulated throughout the interior of the vessel. 

The tugs were sealed shut for about eight to ten hours. Then we would open up the ships, air them out, go back in, cook our meals, sleep, live. The guys complained about the paint coming off the bulkheads and the fact that they would get rashes and so forth. But this was supposed to be the good stuff that kept us from the bad stuff. So we didn't think too much about it because we had trust in those who were putting us through it.   

In 1994, I began to realize that there were some respiratory and cancer problems among the people in Project SHAD. I started writing letters. The first letter was to Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.)  The Department of Defense said there was no Project SHAD--all we had was Autumn Gold and only simulants were used. Other people wrote letters and got the same answers.  

Another congressman wrote to the Department of the Navy. The Navy said there was no record whatsoever of Project SHAD or any such test ever occurring in the Pacific Ocean. I finally spoke to Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). I said, “Find my health record.” They looked for my health record, and DoD came back and said, “We're sorry, but Mr. Alderson's health record is missing.” Could it be because it would include my inoculation record?   

The onus was put on them, and they found my health record. It came to me in a brown paper envelope, and it was a series of pages that had been photocopied. They were jumbled up like someone had shuffled the deck. When you put it all together, it was amazing: 1964 through 1968 were missing. This was the period of time that I was in Project SHAD. I was there '64 through '67.   

One of the reasons that we want the sailors of Project SHAD looked at is there is no way that somebody today would consider something that happened 35 years ago the cause of health problems today. I come from a rural area of Northern California. There is no way that a doctor in Humbolt County is going to recognize symptoms of some of the things that we were exposed to. He would not know what to look for. He just wouldn't recognize it. He would be looking for something else. 

We feel that veterans must be examined. Additionally, the weapons that were tested and the decontamination agents that were used must be declassified. Medical personnel must be allowed to take a look at what the symptoms could be and what diseases could be caused. Everyone who participated in Project SHAD should be called in and given complete physicals. We'd also like to take a look at why some of our people have died. We did the job. And now I think that it's up to the government.   

Why was the testing done? The Department of Defense has obfuscated on this whole thing by saying that SHAD was not there, it was part of Autumn Gold. Now they've admitted that Autumn Gold, Copperhead, and Shady Grove are three separate things; that SHAD is an overall test project conductor, not a specific test. They are going back and forth. They are trying to hide one under the other, and they pass it back and forth.  

They say that the real purpose was to test the effectiveness of ships in protecting themselves from biological warfare weapons. No. If you are going to test a ship's protective capabilities for biological weapons, you would use a destroyer or regular Navy vessel to figure out some way to protect it. They were trying to determine the effectiveness of the biological weapons being used.

The rhesus monkeys were put in cages exterior to the vessel, not inside any citadel. If you were going to test the protective capabilities of a ship, you wouldn't put your test subjects on the exterior.  

During briefings afterward, the test conductors talked about percentages of casualties in the cloud ten miles down from dissemination, 20 miles down from dissemination, 30 miles from dissemination. The LTs were sometimes running at 100 miles. They found out how lethal that cloud was, how far down the line. If you're looking for protection, you're not going to do it that way. 

   


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