“It Felt Like You Were On Fire”: Black Soldiers Were Led Into Gas Chambers and Poisoned During WWIIDuring World War II black soldiers were experimented on with mustard gas.
For the first time, NPR tracked down some of the soldiers and asked them about their experiences.
Rollins Edwards, a former U.S. Army solider, told the public radio station that he and other black soldiers were led into a gas chamber where toxins were released.
“It felt like you were on fire,” Edwards, now 93, told NPR. “Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape.”
Edwards didn’t know at the time that he and 60,000 other enlisted soldiers were being used as guinea pigs for mustard gas and other chemical tests. Edwards was chosen for the study specifically because he was black.
“They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins,” Edwards says.
It wasn’t just blacks, but Japanese-Americans and Puerto Ricans were also used as test subjects. Although the Pentagon had confirmed the tests, it never shared how test subjects were chosen based on race.
Researchers wanted to know if people of color were more resilient because if they were, then they could be used on the front line during battle.
“The first thing to be very clear about is that the Department of Defense does not conduct chemical weapons testing any longer,” Army Col. Steve Warren said. “And I think we have probably come as far as any institution in America on race. … So I think particularly for us in uniform, to hear and see something like this, it’s stark. It’s even a little bit jarring.”
After the tests were done, the soldiers received no health care for any resulting ailments and were sworn to secrecy under threat of dishonorable discharge.
“I spent three weeks in the hospital with a bad fever. Almost all of us got sick,” said Lopez Negron, 95, who was also a test subject.
Mustard gas not only causes blisters, but it also damages DNA.