Thousands of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Japanese American soldiers were subjected to painful secret mustard gas experiments during World War II specifically because of their race, reported National Public Radio (NPR) on Monday.
While the Pentagon had admitted in 1991 to the mustard gas experiments, it had never spoken of the fact that test subjects were divided by race. Following an NPR investigation and interviews with survivors, the Pentagon acknowledged race had been a factor in the experiments.
About 60,000 men were part of the secret program. White men were used as the control group - they were not subjected to the mustard gas. But minority soldiers such as Puerto Rican Juan Lopez Negron, 95, recalled being subjected to the excruciatingly painful chemical, which causes severe burns.
"I spent three weeks in the hospital with a bad fever. Almost all of us got sick," Negron told NPR.
"It felt like you were on fire," said an African American soldier, African American Rollins Edwards, now 93 years old. "Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted."
Because this was top secret, the men could not talk about it and seek treatment.
The Pentagon's press director, Army Colonel Steve Warren, said the military had probably come farther on race than most institutions in America, so it was "jarring" to hear of what had taken place.