Rolland Bivens - now a podiatrist in Portland, Ore. - is probably one of only a few U.S. soldiers to have endured a germ warfare attack. But the attack came from the U.S. Army itself. And it happened in the Utah desert.
He had volunteered with other Seventh-day Adventist soldiers, who had avoided combat duty as conscientious objectors, to help with what they thought were studies to develop defenses against germ warfare. They were actually helping to develop new weapons.A Deseret News probe in 1991 found that Bivens and 29 other volunteers were led to Dugway Proving Ground in 1955 - where a cloud of Q fever germs was generated into the wind, and floated toward them.
"I remember some monkeys nearby," Bivens said. They were caged along with real guinea pigs near the human guinea pigs.
"It was night. I remember hearing in the distance some motors running. We were told they were creating a cloud of Q fever germs. The cloud came toward us and passed by. It was invisible, though. All we saw was clear air," Bivens said.
The clouds also headed off toward the old U.S. 40 (now Interstate 80), along which the Army had placed guinea pigs in cages in what the Army called "peripheral sampling stations."
The soldiers were flown to Fort Detrick, Md., where they were watched closely. Because some became sick with Q fever (which can be deadly, but usually is not), the test was deemed a success.
Bivens and other volunteers seemed not to have suffered any long-term effects - although some exposed to similar tests with other organisms at Fort Detrick say they have.
But the pacifist Seventh-day Adventists are upset that the Army likely misled them about the purpose of the tests. They were told it was to develop defenses, not to develop new weapons - which documents said was really the case.
"I'm sure I would not have volunteered had I known that. That is my only real concern about the test," Bivens said.