This Day in History--Armistice Day and Operation Whitecoat

At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month--the Great War, the most destructive war in human history to that point, finally came to an end.  It was called "the war to end all wars," but an even more destructive world war broke out less than 21 years later.

Armistice Day eventually came to be called Veterans' Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth countries.  The days leading up to November 11 are traditionally marked in Britain and the commonwealth by the wearing of a poppy in the buttonhole.  Why poppies?  The answer is given in the poem, "In Flanders Fields," written by a Canadian doctor, Col. John McCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

On January 28, 1918, worn down by years as a battlefield surgeon, Col. John McCrae died of pneumonia and cerebral meningitis.  He was 45. 

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Thanks to the new Mel Gibson film, many millions of people will learn the story of Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector Desmond Doss.  But many do not know what happened to Adventist conscientious objectors in the post-WW2 era. 

Between 1954 and 1973, more than 2,300 Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objectors volunteered to serve as medical test subjects--essentially guinea pigs--at the army's biodefense research center at Fort Detrick, Maryland.  In "Operation Whitecoat," army researchers intentionally exposed volunteer enlisted men to a variety of pathogens that the army believed might be used in future biological warfare.  A 1994 GAO report states:

Many experiments that tested various biological agents on human subjects, referred to as Operation Whitecoat, were carried out at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in the 1950s. The human subjects originally consisted of volunteer enlisted men. However, after the enlisted men staged a sitdown strike to obtain more information about the dangers of the biological tests, Seventh-day Adventists who were conscientious objectors were recruited for the studies.

Adventist subjects were exposed to the pathogens that cause many different diseases, including Yellow Fever and Tularemia.  No one died during the program, but some participants have reported continuing after-effects of the exotic diseases they were subjected to. 

Most of the participants are proud of the work they did, which led to medical advancements and vaccines that saved thousands of lives.  According to this 2001 Los Angeles Times story, "Taking a Germ Bullet," one participant, W. Dean Rogers, stated:

"Those of us who went into the program were very fortunate," said Rogers, now 54 and living in Silver Spring. "We wanted to serve our country. But some of the friends who went to Vietnam didn't come back. The friends I had in the Whitecoats are still around."

Reportedly, the Veterans Administration has not recognized any claim related to Operation Whitecoat.  Perhaps a President Trump will be more sympathetic to the Whitecoats, the Adventist heroes of Fort Detrick.