A KOREAN WAR GUINEA PIG
A true story by Colonel Allan E. Limberg, CVO, Retired
(Published in the Korea Veterans RSL Sub-Branch newsletter The 38th, in June 2002.)
Preface by Editor of the 38th : The reason for issuing this now through the Korean Sub-branch of the RSL is so that all Korean War veterans, most of whom are ignorant of the symptoms and effects of chemical injury, as are most Australian doctors, and some of you will shortly be asked to complete a questionnaire on your health, hopefully followed by a detailed questionnaire to all or most veterans and probably a medical examination, you can at least become aware of some of the insidious and far reaching health effects. As attested by Dr John Bradley the current studies only came into being in 1997 because of the determined driving force of Allan and the depth of his early and subsequent research ever since. Allan is now being assisted by our Korea Veterans’ RSL Sub-branch.If you are to be finally awarded justified disability pensions and pensions for widows from such exposures, each of you must get a proper understanding of the whole subject. Allan and Dr John Bradley only stumbled accidentally on this vital issue in 1994 when fighting a lengthy battle for acceptance as a War Widow of a Korean veteran who died in strange circumstances. The disabling effects of regular exposures to the wide range of toxic chemicals used in Korea, greater than such exposures experienced by Vietnam veterans, in accordance with written instructions, and the resultant many injuries, illnesses and diseases and deaths that such can cause was one of the 3 main issues the studies were to address. But the two Study committees have been trying desperately ever since to avoid addressing it. Unless you do some homework it is unlikely you will be given due recognition in either the questionnaires or subsequent medical examinations and will get no disability pensions for such exposures as a result.
Thus we believe it vital that each of you become acquainted with all the issues involved. It is hoped that a detailed study of the contents of this true, short story, the contents of which James Cotter has given written consent to Allan for publication by any means, will go a long way to redressing this sorry situation. As our distribution is limited could we suggest that on your own behalf, and on behalf of all your Korean War veteran mates, that each of you give copies to as many Korean War veterans and others as possible or get it published elsewhere as widely as possible.
* * * * *On 12 July 1952 19 years old James Cotter arrived in Korea where he served with two artillery regiments and both the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment in the third year of the horrific Korean War. He was young, fit and healthy, bursting with energy, excitedly looking forward, as did his forebears, to active service.
He was not to know that since the joyous end of World War II, scientists, led by Germany and the USA, had unleashed an unstoppable “ Tsunami,” or giant tidal wave, which would engulf the whole world with millions of toxic chemicals, most untested, on humans, fish, birds, animals and a fragile eco-system. But unlike many Tsunamis, it would not recede, but gather momentum, spreading unknowing destruction in it’s ever growing wake.
On 10 August 1952 James and his battalion as part of the 25th Canadian Brigade in the 1st Commonwealth Division, moved forward into the frontline trenches on Hill 355 in the Jamestown Line where his unit sustained heavy enemy attacks on 23 and 24 October.
In accordance with the written instructions in the Canadian “ Handbook of Army Health, 1950 ” he and his fellow soldiers in all innocence of the terrible effects, without taking any essential precautions, regularly soaked all their clothing in buckets containing toxic DDT and toxic solvents, applied toxic miticides to their boots and gaiters, applied toxic insecticides before and during their regular nightly patrols into no-mans-land – separating them from the battle-hardened Chinese troops, who outnumbered them 2 : 1, – with some opposing trenches only a few hundred yards apart. It was trench warfare as had not existed since that in France in World War I with barbwire entanglements, minefields and the rolling drumbeat of exploding artillery shells.
With five of his mates, James moved into a small, cramped underground bunker or “hutchi.” It had been hurriedly built using local timber to shore up the overhead cover of several feet of rocks and soil as protection from the regular, murderous enemy mortar and artillery fire which regularly rained down on them.
His hutchi was small – barely 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet. It was unventilated with a blanket covering the entrance to prevent the enemy observing their lights. It was wet and mouldy, inhabited by mosquitoes, lice, ticks, fleas, mites, large rats, mice and other vermin. On both sides of his hutchi wall were built two beds, made from steel pickets and signal wire. Two slept on the floor.
This is where he was to sleep, exhausted, when, if lucky, he could snatch 3 or 4 hours between manning the fighting pits or on standing, listening, ambush and fighting patrols, digging and maintaining trenches and defences, and the numerous other tasks assigned to him. His sleeping bag, in accordance, with the handbook, was regularly, thoroughly impregnated with DDT. A hygiene dutyman regularly entered the hutchi and sprayed or “fogged” it with toxic DDT, Dieldren, Chlordane, Malathion and Lindane, Gammexane aerosol “bombs“, toxic solvents and other toxic chemicals, indiscriminately spraying copious amounts over everything, including exhausted soldiers in their bunks, their exposed food and their water supplies.
They heated their tinned rations in their hutchis over toxic hexamine tablets, they breathed the thick, toxic fug of cigarette smoke and the toxic fumes from the smoky, kerosene lamps. In the bitterly cold winters when the mercury sometimes plunged as low as – 49 degrees C and the frozen winds from Siberia brought howling, wind chills of as low as – 99 degrees C they made improvised heaters, called “choofers” in their hutchis.
These usually consisted of a battered jerry can above the hutchi filled with whatever they could scrounge, such as benzene, AVGAS, dieselene or petroleum. It was connected to a rubber tube which entered the hutchi, tied with a knot to control the fuel, which dripped onto a tin of sand, where it fed the flames, making a “choof-choof ” sound. From it emanated toxic, burnt and unburnt chemicals, which engulfed the small hutchi. When the occupants left their underground shelter, coughing and spluttering, their faces and necks were covered with thick “ choofer black ” or “ hutchi tan ” and their sputum was black or yellow tinged.
Their water supplies were usually from a 44 gallon drum, which previously had contained benzene, AVGAS, dieselene or petroleum which had been recently painted, internally, with oil based paint. They normally had no lids. The water was contaminated with the indiscriminate spraying of toxic chemicals and dust and dirt from enemy shelling and often toxically over-chlorinated. It usually had oily, rainbow colours floating on the surface.
James and his fellow soldiers were lucky if they ever got a shower while in the line, which could be for up to 10 or 12 weeks at a time. They lived and slept, constantly, in their toxically drenched clothing, ever alert for an enemy attack. Their toilets and “pissaphones” above ground were regularly sprayed with toxic chemicals and solvents and burnt out with petroleum fuel spraying the contents onto the surrounding ground. In the stifling summers torrential rains often filled the toilets causing them to overflow into trenches and hutchis.
On 29 August 1953, James, having served 382 days in Korea returned to Canada, unaware that the terrible effects of all those exposures to toxic chemicals would wreak great havoc in his life and that of his fellow veterans, and, indeed, in those of the thousands of Australian, British and Canadian troops who also served there.
Almost from the day he arrived home he has been unwell. Shortly after returning home all his teeth fell out. He has had eight operations – including operations for colon and lymph node cancer, gall bladder and Carpel tunnel. “ The doctor who did the cancer operation told me he thought that I should have been dead 10 years ago.”. . . ” For 35 years doctors have been telling me to get psychiatric help and when I did the medication nearly killed me.”. . . ” I have been ill since I returned from Korea with multiple health problems which doctors were unable to diagnose or treat.”
For the next forty years, in constant ill health, he “visited over 32 doctors who subjected him to about 500 examinations and tests, all to no avail,” doctors, who, with no training or understanding of such matters, subjected him to useless test after useless test. In a ten year period he was forced to take over 2,000 days of sick leave.
On 6 October 1953 he was found to have a low level of segmented neutrophils at 51% (60-66% being normal). This abnormal drop is linked to leukaemia, infections, arthritis, vitamin B12 deficiency and chemical exposure. On 2 June 1954 he exhibited 200 myeloblasts/mm3 that were detected on peripheral smear, with an ordinary reference range of 0. The myeloblast is a primitive bone marrow cell that is found in certain leukaemias in the peripheral blood. This is seen in some cases of exposures to toxic substances like DDT, to which he had extensive exposure during his military service in Korea.
On 21 June 1955 he had an elevated percentage of lymphocytes at 40% (reference range at that time was 20 to 30%), once again confirming peripheral blood abnormalities that were consistent with chemical exposures. On 12 October 1972 he had a lymphocytosis of 37% (reference range at that time 25 to 30%). On 6 June 1986 he had a CBC report which showed a suppressed platelet count of 104,000 (normal range 150,000 to 4000,000).
Dr Ross,MD,CCFP,DIBEM,DABEM,FAAEM stated on 13 October 1998 that – “ I believe that these abnormalities, some of which go back to 1953, are consistent with and add weight to Mr Cotter’s claim (and in our medical opinion) that he had been injured in the course of his military service as previously outlined in our correspondence.”
In 1994 (41 years after the war) he managed to borrow $10,000 and get admitted to the prestigious Environmental Health Center at Dallas in Texas, which has tested and treated over 30,000 chemically injured victims, including veterans. In a six page, detailed medical report from Dr Gerald H. Ross, addressed to Dr Kudlak, dated 12 October 1994, following scientific testing in the Environmental Health Center, Dallas, Texas, he stated :
” Mr Cotter’s blood chemical analysis shows evidence of chemical contamination with five chlorinated chemical pesticides residues, these being HCB, Beta-BHC, Oxychlordane, DDE and DDT, . . . he has positive autoimmunity, persisting blood contamination, evidence of severe chemical sensitivity and that this is in all reasonable likelihood of his exposure during military service.” (in the Korean War).
He diagnosed James with a history of chemical exposure, chemical sensitivity, Fibromyalgia, Bowel cancer, Carpel tunnel syndrome and Toxic brain syndrome.
On 8 August 1995 the Canadian Veterans Review and Appeals Board rejected his claim for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) as “ Not attributable to service in the regular forces while attached to the special force in a theatre of operations (Korea).” In doing so they did not disclose the existence of the “ Handbook of Army Health, 1950 ” of which they were well aware, as it’s contents disputed the biased, incorrect statements made by the Pensions Medical Advisory Directorate, which the Board accepted without question in rejecting his claim. Some of that Directorate’s absurd statements were – “ the medical records do not give any evidence of exposure to DDT, DDT is highly soluble in water and therefore exposure to it in the trenches would have been negligible, One would expect that if the veteran had sensitivity to DDT he would have become sick on exposure and remained sick until the chemical was excreted from his body and not in 1994 when the chemical was not available on this continent. ” – all of which shows complete ignorance.
After obtaining a copy of that handbook, of which existence he had been unaware, and requesting a review, the Board, on 9 January 1996, overturned the previous decision and found that “ 00329 Multiple Chemical Sensitivity was attributable to service in the regular forces while attached to the special force in a theatre of operations (Korea).”
In a signed statement by Dr John Molot,MD,CCFP reported that :
“ James Cotter first saw me in February 1997 with multiple somatic complaints including fatigue, tension headache, myalgia in his neck, back and limbs; arthralgia in his knees; palpitations, cough, shortness of breath, heartburn, oral and intestinal flatulence, abdominal cramps, anal itching, nausea, urgency to defecate, poorly formed stools, abdominal bloating, generalised pruritis, itchy ears, tinnitus, earaches, ear congestion, itchy eyes, nose and throat, sore throat, post nasal drip, decreased sense of smell, anxiety, depression, decreased attention span, poor concentration, poor memory, lightheadedness, and distractability.
” He sleeps 10-15 hours per night with fragmentation and poor restoration. He naps 45 minutes to 1 hour daily. He has frequent nightmares. He has significant Cacosmia (adverse reactions to chemical odours), with aggravation of symptoms on exposure to odours of perfume, fresh paint, gasoline products, detergents, fabric softeners, bleach, chlorinated swimming pools, floor wax, moth balls, fresh asphalt, varnish and shellac.
” He has seen many physicians and has been diagnosed with chronic neurotoxicity or chronic neurotoxic encephalopathy with prior exposure to DDT, and possibly mustard gas. Neuropsychological testing gives a diagnostic impression of 1. PTSD (Korean war). 2. Toxic Brain Syndrome. SPECT brain scan performed September 1996 was abnormal and consistent with chemical neurotoxicity. A full audiological evaluation by Dr Lamotte reported bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, moderate to severe, most likely related to chemical neurotoxicity exposures and the degree of Cacosmia correlates directly with the degree of central nervous change and disability.” Dr Molot diagnosed James Cotter’s disease as Chronic Chemical Neurotoxicity (type 2-World Health Organization Classification).
After fruitless examinations by more than 32 doctors and more that 500 useless examinations and tests, years of undiagnosed and untreated ill health, and more than 40 years of fighting by a very disabled and sick veteran and examinations at Dallas paid for by him ($10,000) James Cotter has, finally, as a result of his exposures to toxic chemicals in the Korean War been diagnosed by 3 Canadian and 2 American doctors with the disease of MCS and had the diseases of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Osteoarthritis Right Knee, Osteoarthritis Left knee, Major Depression with Panic Attacks, Toxic Encephalopathy and Peripheral Neuropathy accepted by the Canadian Veterans Review and Appeals Board Canada, dated 13 March 1996, Decision no 4621215.
Even more significantly he has had 7 diseases recently accepted as “ a direct consequence of his war accepted disease of MCS ” by the Canadian Veterans Review and Appeals Board Canada, dated 5 January 1999, Decision no 6356696. They include Toxic Encephalopathy, Peripheral Neuropathy, Hearing Loss, Loss of Teeth, Optic Neuropathy, Osteoarthritis Cervical Spine and Osteoarthritis Lumbar Spine.
Contrary to what spokesmen state ” on behalf of the Australian government ” and the recent poorly prepared, very biased decision by the RMA, which does not accept MCS as a disease, nor treat those diagnosed with it, based wrongly, principally, on a now highly discredited “workshop” held in Berlin in 1996, attended only by commercial chemical companies, with the express aim of denigrating MCS, James Cotter is receiving not only considerable appropriate treatment for those diseases including chemical injury and MCS with all costs borne by Veterans Affairs Canada, including “ everything that enhances his quality of life.“
In sharp, dramatic contrast in Australia, in the reports of the Vietnam Veterans’ Mortality and Health Studies, exposures to toxic chemicals in that war were written out in half a page for reasons which are incorrect. It seems clear that in those studies the study committees were deliberately stacked and the Protocols followed were inappropriate.
A similar situation appears to be clearly happening in the current Korean Veterans’ Mortality Study ( Health studies are not yet approved ) for the same reasons. The two committees established in February 1998 are desperately trying to ignore the whole subject of exposures to toxic chemicals in accordance with the Australian “ Handbook of Army Health,1950” and other written instructions issued in Korea, including the aerial spraying of our forward combat units in accordance with a secret instruction issued by General Ridgway, Commander 8th Army.
It is clear that when, and if, this issue is ever dispassionately, properly and scientifically examined in Australia and Korean War veterans and their doctors are adequately informed of the issues and symptoms involved the figures for those veterans being diagnosed with chemical injury and MCS from exposures to toxic chemicals will rise dramatically.
From all my detailed, strongly supported research, world-wide, there is a very clear thread running through the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and subsequent conflicts of regular exposures to a wide range of toxic chemicals, including insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, solvents, rodenticides, miticides, radon gas, radiation, possibly mustard gas, toxic pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals and consequent early, untimely deaths and of veterans, still living in confusion, pain and bewilderment, with a wide range of illnesses and diseases not understood nor treated by their doctors.
Quite unlike the USA, Canada and recently the UK, in particular, the Australian government, DVA and the RMA seem vehemently determined not to face up to the terrible disabilities that have, by government direction, been inflicted on their servicemen and their families.
In the case of the Gulf war following years of heated, incorrect denials from the US DOD, doctors, scientists, Congressmen, their VA department, and others, and as a result of sustained public pressure :
* “ two unpublished reports by VA (USA) that of 80,000 US veterans of the Gulf War, 28% (22,400) have CFS, 18% (14,400) have FMS (Fibromyalgia Syndrome), and that 12% (9,600) have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.” In a letter to me from the US Executive Director of MCS Referral and Resources he states that36% (28,800) have now been diagnosed with MCS. The causes of such symptoms of the Gulf War Syndrome included exposures to toxic insecticides, pesticides, solvents, toxic pharmaceuticals and petro-chemicals, to all of which Australian Korean War veterans were exposed. He also recently stated that of the recent 561 peer-reviewed journals, papers etc, 2/3 rds now accept MCS as a clinical disease, not of psychosomatic or psychiatric origin.As a result, on 4 August 1999, in the US House of Representatives, a Bill accepting compensation for illnesses arising from exposures to toxic chemicals, which recognises MCS, CFS and Fibromyalgia and other related illnesses and diseases, the “Persian Gulf War Syndrome Compensation Act of 1999”was enacted.
In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Colin Brown, Korean veteran and author of “ Stalemate in Korea” :
* “ When soldiers are committed to battle, they place their faith in their commanders and, beyond them, their politicians, to give them all possible support.
* “ If the Federal authorities continue to deny a sympathetic understanding and acceptance of the serious repercussions caused by the intense use of such chemical agents, they are guilty of a breach of faith with those who were so unwittingly exposed. They are now suffering severe disorders, far beyond the average of the population not so subjected, whose average standard of health was lower than that of the volunteers at the time of their entry into Korea.
* “ What is needed is a better understanding and acceptance of the problems relating to toxic chemicals by those most qualified, in this field and their views should be put convincingly to the authorities.
* “ It is disgraceful that it took the Canadian DVA forty five years to accept a seriously disabled serviceman’s plea for a pension for the condition of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. It is a sad reflection on our Australian system that we are even further behind and even more intransigent than the Canadians.”Epilogue 2 :
In more recent times the members of the two Australian Korean War veterans study committees and the Canadian DVA and some doctors have attempted to denigrate the decisions made concerning James Cotter on the basis that they were only made for a very sick veteran to keep him quiet and were incorrect.
All the recent many attempts by a Canadian – Dr Cook, and others, (apparently by direction and possibly with the connivance of the Australian DVA) to denigrate and overturn the acceptance in 1996 of his Korean War caused MCS and the other 7 illnesses that arose from, or were due to, his Korean War caused MCS and to denigrate the need for a wide range of essential treatments for MCS have all come to naught.
This followed a recent 3.5 months of detailed study of his case and their 4.5 hour examination of him by the Toronto Sunnybrook Environmental Health Clinic, as detailed in their report dated 30 May 2001, in which they list all his accepted illnesses or diseases, including MCS, and list all the many essential treatments required including that for MCS, all of which were supported in a letter dated 17 September 2001 from Canhealth Medical Clinic to Dr Cook.
In September 2001 in a poorly prepared, very one sided and biased decision our RMA determined that they do not propose to make a Statement of Principles (SoP) for MCS as it is not a disease, and an extraordinary statement that all other illnesses or diseases that can result from, or be due to, exposures to toxic chemicals are already adequately covered in existing SoP’s statements which is demonstrably incorrect. As a direct result on behalf of all veterans of at least all wars since 1945, Major General Stevens, Repatriation Commissioner and Chairman of the study committee, was formally requested on 4 October 2001, under the legal contents of section 180A which came into legal effect with the RMA’s determination, to establish a small team of experts to report to the Repatriation Commission on the production of its own Statements of Principles for each and every injury, illness and disease which can be due to, or arise out of, such exposures, including one for MCS, as our veterans and others are legally now entitled to such and precedence already exists where such was done for 4 leukaemias (only for Vietnam veterans). That request was formally supported by several Korean veteran organisations and others who are involved in the health of our veterans disabled from, or who have died from, such exposures. More 11 months later, despite regular hasteners, he refused to do so.
This story and some related matters can be downloaded from :
The Colonel’s Story at http://www.oprus2001.co.uk/colonel.htm