Health Nugget – Operation Whitecoat

We impatiently watch as scientists race to find vaccines for new viruses endangering our lives today. Our world is not in this situation for the first time. Most people today are unaware that lots of the antibiotics and vaccines that we use today required a great sacrifice of young Seventh-day Adventists. Many effective medical drugs bear a significant Adventist footprint. But first, a little history.

In 1945, the U.S. Army and the Soviet Red Army raced to reach Germany. In addition to the goal of liberating Europe from Nazi occupation, there was one more goal: find and capture German scientists who were the world’s best at the time. Many of these scientists worked for the Nazi war machine, designing rockets and biological weapons. Many of them later stood trial for their war crimes. But the United States intervened in their favor in Operation Paperclip and whisked over 1,500 German scientists to the United States. Many of them found new high-ranking positions, eventually employed at NASA or in the U.S. biological weapon research where they could continue their research with no questions asked about their past.

One of those German scientists consulted by U.S. chemical warfare experts was Kurt Blome who tested chemicals on human prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. He was tried for his war crimes at the Nuremberg tribunal, but the United States intervened and acquitted him of his crimes in exchange for contributions to U.S. scientific research.

At the time, world leaders didn’t envision lasting peace. Many countries advanced significantly in the development of biological weapons and the United States couldn’t stay behind. The cold war was starting, and an armed conflict seemed often imminent.

The United States set up a biological warfare research facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland, in 1943. Aforementioned German scientist Kurt Blome was consulted for this camp research after the war. This facility’s mission was top secret and no one in the military really knew what went on behind its walls. Officially, it was used by weapons storage.

Many ex-Nazi German researchers claimed that testing biological agents on animals wasn’t adequate. No animal can substitute for testing on humans. Here the Seventh-day Adventist Church comes into place. Many young Adventists were conscientious objectors and were refusing to bear arms in the U.S. armed forces. So the U.S. military made an offer to the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Your young men can serve their country without bearing arms. They can help in biodefense of the United States. The Seventh-day Adventist Church accepted and signed an agreement.

Thousands of young Adventists started to enlist with the blessing of their church. Many of them ended up at Fort Detrick, Maryland, participating in the top-secret Operation Whitecoat, which ran from 1954 to 1973.

These Adventist young men were patriots. They were not indifferent to the accusations of being cowards, while their non-Adventist compatriots were sacrificing their lives in the U.S. military. These men were also the perfect bioresearch subjects. They were young, often vegetarian, in perfect health, their bodies unharmed by drinking or smoking. They were exactly what the U.S. military wanted.

These young men signed an agreement informing them that they would be exposed to harmful pathogens and chemicals. What will happen to them exactly? Will their health or life be endangered? No one had answers to these questions. While the research subjects were classified as “volunteers,” any kind of volunteerism is in doubt if the choices are violating one’s conscience or benefiting humanity as a human guinea pig. Get dangerously sick or get drafted to war? Many took the first option.

What happened at this secret facility? The campus had a metal sphere with windows that were airtight. It was called the Eight Ball. The army volunteers were locked into this ball and aerosolized bioagents were released into it. Researchers then monitored the subjects’ reactions. All subjects eagerly cooperated, which was a new experience for the German research team members. Afterward, these Adventist volunteers were quarantined and treated for any symptoms.

What were the experiments? The subjects were infected with Q-fever. The military was concerned that the disease, if weaponized, could incapacitate thousands of soldiers. The antidote tried was the antibiotic tetracycline. Another trial was yellow fever, which is a severe viral disease that kills the inhabitants of tropical areas. A vaccine was discovered at Fort Detrick for this infection. The portfolio of infections also included Rift Valley Fever (RVF) which is zoonotic, i.e., transferred from animals. We still have no cure, but an effective vaccine was discovered at Fort Detrick. Other examples are tularemia, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, sand-fly fever – all in the name of protecting the United States from the growing Soviet arsenal of biological weapons.

At other times the volunteers were accompanied by guinea pigs and macaques in their tents, waiting until a virus jumped from the animals to the young men. “Then came fevers, convulsions, chills, absolute numbness alternating with the feeling that the skeleton jumps out of my body. Two or three days were really hard for me. I really have never been any sicker than that,” recalls Merlin Neff, who was 23 at the time.

There were reportedly hundreds of substances and drugs tested. Sometimes the subjects had to be bitten by mosquitoes. Other times, they were locked in a shipping container, bus, or wagon. Then it was monitored how many of them would passively become infected. With what? They usually didn’t know.*

Many of the participants became violently ill. How did these young men feel about these experiments? “Some of the guys said that first they were afraid to die, and then some of them were afraid they wouldn’t die,” said Richard O. Stenbakken, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries.*

President Richard Nixon finally ended these experiments in 1973. And what happened to the Eight Ball? It still sits largely forgotten on the Fort Detrick campus, today owned by the National Cancer Institute. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.

Whitecoat volunteers made up one of the largest human testing programs in the nation’s history. Many of these volunteers’ health was severely impacted for the rest of their lives. Yet, they were bound by military oath to remain silent until 1994 when this program was declassified. Sadly, these Adventist military members were unsuccessful in their petition for veteran benefits.

Every year, there are fewer and fewer of these volunteers alive.


Martin Bernar is a graphic designer and writes from Dallas, Texas.

Restoring the Temple – To Arms with Your Immune System, Part I

When we catch a cold, we say that we are “fighting a bug.” But did you know that our bodies are constantly fighting “bugs”? Moment by moment we are under attack by thousands of different kinds of viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. Our powerful immune systems wipe out the invaders before they ever knew what hit them. Only when a microbe launches a particularly strong invasion (or the microbe itself is particularly virulent) does our immune system put its entire arsenal into play, stimulating symptoms such as tiredness, fever, runny nose, and coughs. It is often only then that we pay any attention to the health of our immune systems.

We each have billions of microbes on our skin and in our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. These microbes are called our normal flora. The vast majority of our normal flora do not cause disease and are either completely passive or actually help us maintain health. For instance, certain bacteria in our GI tracts produce vitamin K for us, an important factor in the ability to clot blood and stop bleeding. We actually have more bacteria in us than we have human cells! When certain internal or environmental changes occur, the delicate balances of our bodies falter and opportunistic microbes begin their invasion. We are exposed to more people and stale air in the cool months and therefore provide more opportunities for the wily microbial invader. Fortunately, our immune system was created to be an incredibly complex powerhouse that ever-vigilantly sweeps the body for enemies and destroys them. It is important, therefore, that we know both what is harmful to the immune system and what strengthens it.

Toxic Chemicals

Those who know the health message do not have to worry about the destruction done by smoking, alcohol and drug use, but toxic chemicals are present elsewhere and are harmful to our immune systems. Avoiding second-hand smoke is essential. Also important is the amount of non-organic foods you ingest. This is particularly true for children, because the EPA’s guidelines for safe pesticide levels are standardized for a large adult human male, not for children who are not only smaller but who metabolize chemicals at a different rate.


Refined sugar is nothing but pure carbohydrate stripped of any nutritional value. It is what we call empty calories. Like a recreational drug or alcohol, sugar affects the brain first, is addictive, and causes your energy to bottom out. Sugar depresses the immune response and is toxic to immune cells. Sugar lowers our resistance. Think of sugar as lowering the walls of our fortress, letting the invading army march over the top. One teaspoon of sugar can inhibit natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages for up to six hours. “Sugar clogs the system. It hinders the working of the living machine.” Counsels on Diets and Foods, 327.


Avoid saturated and polyunsaturated fats and oils. They help form free radicals which damage the immune system. Fats are also known to irritate the lining of blood vessels, making a less than optimal environment for the immune cells to do their work.


By-products of metabolizing protein can irritate the immune system. Vegetarians benefit from a naturally lower protein diet. Animal products contain residues of steroids and antibiotics that lead to an impaired immunity. Not only is milk protein a common immune system irritant, it increases mucus production, which makes the body’s systems slow to respond and slow to heal.

Lack of Exercise

The cells that comprise the immune system—NK cells, macrophages, B-cells, T-cells, etc.— rely on a well functioning, strong circulatory and lymphatic system. A sedentary lifestyle leads to lethargic blood and lymph flow. “Exercise, and a free, abundant use of the air and sunlight—blessings which heaven has bestowed upon all—would in many cases give life and strength to the emaciated invalid.” Ibid., 302. “By neglecting to take physical exercise, by overworking mind or body, we unbalance the nervous system. Those who thus shorten their lives by disregarding nature’s laws are guilty of robbery toward God. We have no right to neglect or misuse the body, the mind, or the strength, which should be used to offer God consecrated service.” Counsels on Health, 41.


One way the immune system relies on water is the same as for exercise. Dehydration causes the blood to become concentrated and torpid—not optimal conditions for immune cells to rush the invader. Furthermore, water helps regulate temperature—essential during fever—and flushes microbes and toxins out of the body. Remember, thirst is an indicator that you are already dehydrated.

“Thousands have died for want of pure water and pure air who might have lived. And thousands of invalids, who are a burden to themselves and others, think that their lives depend upon taking medicines from the doctors. They are continually guarding themselves against the air and avoiding the use of water. These blessings they need in order to become well. If they would become enlightened and let medicine alone, and accustom themselves to outdoor exercise and to air in their houses, summer and winter, and use soft water for drinking and bathing purposes, they would be comparatively well and happy instead of dragging out a miserable existence.” Ibid., 55, 56.

Lack of Sleep

Interleukins are chemical messengers that are produced by certain white blood cells. During a microbial invasion, interleukins are released, mobilizing the immune cell army. Immune cells rely on these chemical messages in order to know when to “go to arms.” Interleukins also stimulate the hypothalamus, which is the body’s thermostat, to increase body temperature, thereby providing an unpleasant atmosphere for the “bugs” and speeding up the immune response. Interleukins also contribute to the feeling of sleepiness that you have when you get sick, prompting you to get more healing rest. Studies have shown that sleep increases natural immune system modulators, such as interleukin, and even a modest sleep deficit impairs immunity. Your body’s response to illness appears partly dependent upon the quality of sleep you got before the illness set in.


Ever notice that when you are stressed you become more prone to catching a cold? One of the reasons is a hormone called cortisol that the body produces when we are under stress. Cortisol causes several responses in the body. Inflammation is increased; calcium is pulled from the bones, and autoimmune disorders are exacerbated. Conversely, reducing stress reduces cortisol which alleviates these symptoms. You can then see how it is paramount to over-all health to reduce daily stress.

Our bodies were created to be wonderfully complex. Fortunately, God has given us much insight into how we can avoid certain behaviors that cause the body and its interconnected systems to falter. With a little care, each one of us will be able to build up our health instead of fighting against our own army.

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.” Isaiah 58:8.