by Jay Price
Published on Monday, January 12, 2009 by The News & Observer (North Carolina)
It was 1968, and Frank Rochelle was 20 years old and fresh out of
Army boot camp when he saw notices posted around his base in Virginia
asking for volunteers to test uniforms and equipment.
That might be a good break after the harsh weeks of boot camp, he
thought, and signed up.
Instead of equipment testing, though, the Onslow County native found
himself in a bizarre, CIA-funded drug testing and mind-control
program, according to a lawsuit that he and five other veterans and
Vietnam Veterans of America filed last week. The suit was filed in
federal court in San Francisco against the Department of Defense and the CIA.
The plaintiffs seek to force the government to contact all the
subjects of the experiments and give them proper health care.
The experiments have been the subject of congressional hearings, and
in 2003 the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a pamphlet
said nearly 7,000 soldiers had been involved and more than 250
chemicals used on them, including hallucinogens such as LSD and PCP
as well as biological and chemical agents. Lasting from 1950 to 1975,
the experiments took place at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. According
to the lawsuit, some of the volunteers were even implanted with
electrical devices in an effort to control their behavior.
Rochelle, 60, who has come back to live in Onslow County, said in an
interview Saturday that there were about two dozen volunteers when he
was taken to Edgewood. Once there, they were asked to volunteer a
second time, for drug testing. They were told that the experiments
were harmless and that their health would be carefully monitored, not
just during the tests but afterward, too.
The doctors running the experiments, though, couldn't have known the
drugs were safe, because safety was one of the things they were
trying to find out, Rochelle said.
"We volunteered, yes, but we were not fully aware of the dangers," he
said. "None of us knew the kind of drugs they gave us, or the
aftereffects they'd have."
Rochelle said he was given just one breath of a chemical in aerosol
form that kept him drugged for two and a half days, struggling with
visions. He said he saw animals coming out of the walls and his
freckles moving like bugs under his skin. At one point, he tried to
cut the freckles out with a razor.
Not all the men in his group tested drugs. But he said even those who
just tested equipment were mistreated.
"Their idea of testing a gas mask was to give you a faulty one and
put you in a gas chamber," he said. "It was just diabolical."
The tests lasted about two months. Later, Rochelle was sent to Vietnam.
Now he's rated 60 percent disabled by the VA, he said, and has
struggled to keep his civilian job working on Marine bases. He has
breathing problems, and his short- term memory is so bad that he once
left his son at a gas station. Among other problems, he said, his
doctor diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and said it came from
the drug experiment. He has trouble sleeping and still sometimes has
visions from the drug, he said.
A big goal of the lawsuit, Rochelle said, is to get the word out to
the thousands of soldiers who were tested. Some may have forgotten
all about the tests and not know that's why they have health problems now.