A 68-year-old Central Ohio resident shares horror stories of physical torment he endured at the hands of the U.S. Government during the Vietnam War

The U.S. military revealed last fall that human research experiments were performed on 70,000 troops from 1922 to 1975 after the living victims sought health care for related ailments in a successful lawsuit.

As active members of the military, these men were given incentives like three-day weekend furloughs if they volunteered for the program. The soldiers involved were subjected to hallucinogens and mustard gas.

While the military was forced to admit its unethical practices on soldiers, the lawsuit did not address the men who actively denounced the Armed Forces but were at the forefront of its human experiment research.

A dozen men spent 18 months in a Colorado army hospital to escape the war raging on the banks of South Vietnam.

For 68-year-old Dave Evans, the 18 months of physical torment he endured at the hands of the U.S.government is now his “party story.”

Dave may be a central Ohio native, but today, it’s impossible to find him if you don’t know where to look. Start in a small city a few hours north of San Francisco. Spend a few hours on a cluttered California highway, then follow a winding, mountainous dirt road to a cabin hidden in the trees.

Today, Dave relies on solar power and rain water to power his mountainside cabin — he lives completely off the grid.

He’s headstrong, but easy to talk to. He’s tall, with gray hair and crinkles at the corners of his eyes. For the college kid protesting the Vietnam War, his time in the army hospital was a tribulation. With a little prodding, Dave is able to turn the clock back 44 years.

Communist forces reigned supreme in northern Vietnam following World War II, spurring discord between the Chinese-backed red north and French Indochina, the colonial south. As a result, Vietnam was split at the 17th Parallel, dividing the country in two.

The Cold War was intensifying and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in support of South Vietnam, cracked down on stateside communist sympathizers. By 1962, President John F. Kennedy stationed 9,000 American troops in the southeast Asian state.

On Aug. 2, 1964, a U.S. destroyer was attacked by North Vietnam torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. By the next year, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered 180,000 troops to Vietnam.

The war caused unrest on the home front. With opposition to the war mounting, President Richard Nixon enacted the Selective Service System — or the draft.

The first Vietnam draft was televised and randomly assigned the birthdays of eligible men to numbers — the lower the number, the higher the chance of being called to serve.

One in three soldiers that served in Vietnam were deployed because of the draft.

On the day of the live broadcast, Dave watched the ping pong balls bounce around the cage like “bingo at church on Sunday.” Eventually his birthdate was called — number 13.

While Dave could have evaded the draft with a student deferment, the death of a close friend caused him to drop out of college and face his grim reality.

“I could have stayed in college and avoided the draft,” he said. “I was just sort of swept up in a larger cultural opposition to the war.”

As a passive person who strongly disliked violence, he appeared multiple times at the Selective Service Board in Columbus to apply for conscientious objector status.

A conscientious objector is someone opposed to the violence of war on principle. If Dave were granted a CO deferment, he would not have to serve in a combat position.

He was rejected three times.

“In those days it was tough to get a CO deferment,” he said. “They generally went to young men who were from a Quaker, Mennonite, Amish background — and I didn’t have that. Mine was really a political position of the injustice of the war.

“That just really didn’t cut it.”

By then, Dave received his notice to appear at boot camp. He left Ohio and hitch-hiked to California to work with a Quaker organization that would move him to Canada illegally.

Of the 300,000 war-eligible men who illegally evaded the draft, over 30,000 fled to Canada. They were eventually offered amnesty by President Gerald Ford in 1974.

Back in Columbus, Dave’s mother, distraught by her son’s plans to leave the country, sat outside the Selective Service office for two days, pleading her son’s pacifism.

After two days, the corporal agreed to speak with her. A few weeks later, Dave acquired civilian conscientious objector status.

But a CO status wasn’t a ‘get out of jail free card.’ Objectors often worked in veterans’ hospitals and some even served in uniform in non-combat positions. Dave, however, chose the shortest and most exotic of the service options.

“I really didn’t know much about what I was getting myself into,” he said. “It was something like ‘Human Research Subject.’”

He was given a date to report to Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. He arrived at the military base long-haired and wide-eyed.

Fitzsimons opened its doors in the 1940s to wounded soldiers coming home from World War I, prisoners of war and those needing tuberculosis treatment. It was at Fitzsimons that Eisenhower, who originally backed the Vietnam, received treatment for a heart condition.

In 1968, the hospital began accepting wounded Vietnam veterans. This program, which Dave coined “the amputee center for Vietnam,” continued until 1973.

The hospital’s dark history is mentioned briefly in “Fitzsimons Army Medical Center: The Life andHistory.” The entry, “1974- Nutrition Lab moved to Letterman Army Institute of Research,” doesn’t even reach the end of the page.

But it was here that Dave and 11 other men would spend the next year and a half, trailed by IV poles and nurses.

“Fitzsimons had thousands of young men, my age, in really horrific physical conditions, and we were witness to this — the 12 of us thought we didn’t have it so bad,” Dave said.

The Nutrition Lab at Fitzsimons studied metabolic diseases like diabetes and hyperglycemia in 2 to 4- month trials conducted by Army research doctors.

“Two or three times a day we would have to drink these large milkshakes of who knows what,” he said. “They were really horrible. There would be a corpsman there making sure we consumed every drop and rinsed out the cup.

“It was not fun to go to dinner.”

Each study required regular jejunum biopsies. The jejunum is a part of the small intestine, and during a biopsy a piece of the lining is snipped by a metal capsule, or Crosby capsule, which is threaded through a long plastic tube.

Dave said he would swallow the capsules and, as the metal worked its way down his intestine, yellow bile would start to drain from the tube. He would then sit in a large wooden chair as a doctor pushed ice water through a syringe and into the tube, flushing the bile back down.

“Then they would pull the syringe, which would create a vacuum and pull the wall of our intestine into that little hole,” he said. “They would break the vacuum by just twisting the syringe and it would fire off the razor blade and snip off a little piece of the wall of our intestine.

“Then we would have to hang onto the chair and sort of cock our neck forward like a goose while a corpsman would pull this thing out of us. We would have one or two of those a week and they would draw blood four or five times a day.”

This procedure appeared in numerous published studies from the Metabolic Division of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Nutrition Laboratory at Fitzsimons.

One study looked at the effects of short-chain alcohols on the enzyme adenyl cyclase in rat and human intestine tissue. The study notes the use of the Crosby biopsy to extract the samples in humans.

The study also notes the subjects used in the experiment were conscientious objectors and “the provisions of the contract make it obligatory to obtain the informed consent.” Dave said the experiments were never explained to him formally beforehand.

Some of the experiments called for fat biopsies. Doctors would pull back the skin on the subject’s backside and take out a chunk of fat. Others called for drawing arterial blood, which required that a surgeon insert a needle into the subject’s forearm, against the radial bone.

Other experiments necessitated that the subjects become critically ill.

“We were Guinea pigs. They would make us clinically diabetic,” Dave said. “I remember we would take pills and drink these big cups of liquid fructose and we would have the symptoms of diabetic reactions.

“Occasionally they had synthetic fever viruses they injected us with, and they would give us really high temperatures, dangerously high. One of the men in the study with me had to be rushed to the main hospital and revived because he was going into a coma.”

Records of these experiments at Fitzsimons go back as early as 1966, only one year after the Vietnam War began. Topics of the research reports ranged from cardiovascular heath to nutritional health of army dogs and to the ideal diet for a soldier in combat.

“I think (the doctors) sincerely believed they were in pursuit of medical research that would make a difference in people’s lives, and I think all of us tried to hold onto the thought that we were making someone’s life better,” Dave said.

“They were a little careless in how they used us.”

After Dave left Fitzsimons, he loosely kept in touch with one other man from the study, who refuses to discuss the events of those 18 months, even today.

Dave is now a professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at Utah State University. He said the experiments have not compromised his health, unlike the plaintiffs in the case against the U.S. military.

He said he does not regret his decision to consciously object to the war, or to serve as a human research subject, which a colleague compared to the Nazi human experiments.

After the closure of the Nutrition Lab, the hospital went through many changes — in 1977, the TB ward was closed. AIDS and stem cell research began less than a decade later.

In the 1990s, the medical center’s soldiers were deployed for Operation Desert Shield, an international alliance against Iraq launched by President George H.W. Bush.

Six years later, after the completion of a Fisher House, Credit Union, Child Development Center and Burger King, the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center was inactivated, remodeled and transformed into the University of Colorado Hospital.

Editors Note: A version of this story was previously published in The New Political’s 2017 Summer Magazine.

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