EYEWITNESS TO SHAD
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.
Army Light Tugs (Lts) were the test targets for Project Shady
Grove. I was the officer in charge of those five tugs.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
LTs came into the area, were outfitted, and then went to sea. The
U.S.S. Granville S.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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