Help Promised to WWII Vets Subjected To Mustard Gas Tests

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John's service photograph.

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John’s service photograph.

This week – NPR revealed that 60,000 World War II veterans were exposed to mustard gas while training in the U.S. and some are currently living in the Tampa Bay region.

The NPR investigation found that the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to keep its promise to help any of the mustard gas veterans who had permanent injuries. After the NPR investigation, the VA is again pledging to reach out to ensure exposed veterans are getting the benefits they’ve earned.

And the vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, has called for a hearing and offered his assistance to one of his constituents, John Tedesco of Pasco County.

John Tedesco as a  US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII - notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

John Tedesco as a US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII – notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

Tedesco said he was part of the Navy’s mustard gas experiments conducted at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in early 1944. He was 17 years old.

“We really didn’t know what was going on. We were young,” Tedesco said. “We got all kinds of shots. But I figured it was just normal, you know, routine.”

Now 88 years old, Tedesco doesn’t remember specifics of the mustard gas test, he does remember being checked by doctors and corpsmen at noon each day after the test for more than a week.

Some of his buddies from Company 92 at Great Lakes were able to give detailed accounts in a 1991 Erie, Pennsylvania newspaper article. It was published shortly after the U.S. Department of Defense declassified the mustard gas experiments.

“When I was back in Erie and I met some of the fellas, they said they were going to go put a claim in because they were all kind of sick too,” Tedesco said adding that his group went to the local veterans affairs office together to fill out paperwork and then to the VA for two days of tests. He said his claim was denied.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

Tedesco said he developed breathing problems shortly after joining the Navy. He got out in May 1946 but didn’t go to the VA about his health issues until 1991 – more than four decades later.

“I was a carpenter and I was a builder, a small builder and I did that up until I quit,” Tedesco said. He retired at age 57. “You know I couldn’t stand – like if they’d be bulldozing on the job and making dust, I’d have to go home because I’d get sick. If they’d paint, I’d have to go home. Smells and that, they bother (me), my wife don’t wear perfume or anything because it bothers me.”

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco's wedding in October 1947.

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco’s wedding in October 1947.

His wife of 67 years, Joan Tedesco, said her husband’s health problems were really bad when they lived in California in the 1960s.

“I used to rush him to the hospital all the time, he couldn’t breathe. Here they found out he was allergic to the redwood,” said Joan Tedesco. “We just loved it out there but there was no way we could stay, so we ended going back to Erie.”

Their son, Dr. John Tedesco, is a family physician practicing in Wesley Chapel. He also has vivid memories of when they lived in California.

“My father was in construction. They said he was having allergy problems but what it was it was asthma,” Dr. Tedesco said.

“His breathing was absolutely horrible. One time they had to call paramedics to come to the house because he couldn’t breathe and I remember them doing an intra-cardiac epinephrine shot,” Dr. Tedesco said. “As a little kid watching somebody stick a big needle into your father’s chest while he was lying on the ground because he can’t breathe, I’ll never forget that.”

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

He said his dad’s breathing problems prevented him from even simple joys like playing sports with his children.

Dr. Tedesco believes his father’s asthma is not due to allergies but instead related to his mustard gas exposure. He even wrote a letter to the VA to help his father file another mustard gas claim – that too was rejected.

After a while, the World War II veteran who spent 21 months in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea just gave up.

“You know, I feel they should have done something and they didn’t do anything,” Tedesco said.”We tried. They turned me down so many times I figured just let it go.”

Hearing of Tedesco’s plight, his member of congress, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, promised to help.

“We’re going to reach out to him and if he gives me permission to advocate on his behalf, I certainly will,” Bilirakis said.

The vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told NPR he’s working on bringing in VA officials to testify, and has already requested a hearing.

Knowing what he knows now — Tedesco says he’d volunteer to serve today if asked.

“It’s a good country. Yes, I would,” Tedesco said. “It’s the best country in the world.”

 

 

World War II Vet Says VA Denied His Mustard Gas Claim

World War II Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article that details when he and several Navy buddies from his basic training filed VA claims in 1991 after the mustard gas testing they were subjected to was declassified.

World War II Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article that details when he and several Navy buddies also exposed to mustard gas filed VA claims in 1991 after the testing was declassified.

This week, NPR has revealed that the U.S. military conducted chemical weapons experiments on American soldiers and sailors during World War II.

It also found the Veterans Administration did little to help the thousands of veterans exposed to mustard gas.

John Tedesco, 88, is a Tampa Bay area veteran who said he was exposed to mustard gas in basic training — before he shipped out to the Pacific in 1944.

Like many who enlisted during World War II, Tedesco was young when he signed up for  the Navy in November 1943. It was less than a month after he turned 17 years old.

John Tedesco while serving in the Navy during WWII. In the left corner, a photograph of his then girlfriend, now, wife of 67 years.

John Tedesco while serving in the Navy during WWII. In the left corner, a photograph of his then girlfriend, now, wife of 67 years.

By January 1945,  Tedesco and several friends from Erie, Pennsylvania were in boot camp together at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station just north of Chicago.

That’s where Tedesco said he and a couple of his buddies were exposed to mustard gas. He said no one objected – at the time – you did what you were told to do.

“We were all young, 17 years old – 18 years old. You know,” Tedesco said.

He doesn’t remember the specifics of the mustard gas test — but he recalls what came next.

“The day after, I remember, they used to have two doctors and corpsmen come at noon and they checked us over,” Tedesco said. “For about a week, they did this and then we never seen them no more. That was it.”

In a few months, Tedesco was on his way to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and later New Guinea. He would serve 21 months overseas. He was discharged May 2, 1946 in California.

“I’ve had breathing problems ever since I went into the Navy,” Tedesco said. “I don’t know if it was because I started smoking while I was in the Navy or if it was the mustard gas. But something’s bothered me ever since.”

Tedesco said he suffers from asthma and had to retire early from his job as a carpenter and building contractor, at age 57, because of chronic breathing problems.

A photo of the July 1991 newspaper article that gives details from four WWII sailors who say they were subjected to mustard gas experiments while in basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

A photo of the July 1991 newspaper article that gives details from four WWII sailors who say they were subjected to mustard gas experiments while in basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

He said he and some of his friends filed claims with the VA in 1991 when the mustard gas experiments were declassified. Their quest was written up in the local Erie newspaper.

But Tedesco said his claim was denied. He said he tried again when he got more proof – a copy of a letter a friend wrote while they were in boot camp together.

“And in that letter, he mentioned that we were mustard gassed and he had my name mentioned that we were there,” Tedesco said.

But again, the VA denied his claim, Tedesco said.

That’s when  he just let it go because he didn’t want to jeopardize the disability payment he does receive for hearing loss and a leg wound suffered in the war.

The VA has responded to NPR’s series on Broken Promises To Vets Exposed To Mustard Gas and lawmakers are promising take action including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, vice-chairman of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Bilirakis’ office has reached out to Tedesco to offer help getting his VA claim reviewed.

7 Tips To Make A Military Move – PCS – Smoother

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

We are smack dab in the middle of the peak moving season for military families. Traditionally, it’s May through August. And it happens every two to three years — to mostly all military families.

It’s called “Permanent Change of Station” or P-C-S.

It can be a stressful time, but one of the bright spots is that the military community has a strong network with plenty of moving experience to share.

Maggie Hahn is a retired Marine Corps spouse who has moved children, household goods and pets across the country six different  times during her husband’s military career and nine deployments.

And she kept a journal through it all. Hahn shares some of those ideas she jotted down to make each move a little bit smoother than the last.

  1. Create a “No Move Zone” in your home to get your children involved. It’s a place where they can place their special items they want to personally carry and not have packed in the moving truck.
  2.  Be proactive and start planning immediately as soon as you learn you have a Permanent Change of Station.
  3. Start putting money aside – a PCS fund if you will – for unexpected travel costs and things like rent and utility deposits at your next duty station.
  4. Carry your important documents with you in a fire-proof box — school and medical records, IDs and passports.
  5. Families should compare their current cost of living rate (BAH) with the rate for their new base because it will be different and affect their budget.
  6. Take photographs of your belongings in case something is lost or damaged and of things like stereo and TV connections so it’s easier to reconnect your electronics in your new home.
  7. Use the military’s Permissive Temporary Duty, leave to go house hunting at your new station.

Hahn said it’s important to get “boots on the ground” and “eyes in the field” when deciding where to live in your new duty station.

“I was looking for the little tykes’ play sets,” Hahn said. “I was looking for the big wheels, the bicycles, the parks. Did I feel comfortable in that neighborhood? Did I feel safe knowing that my loved one was going to be gone a lot of the time on deployment?”

Hahn works as an advocate with USAA, an insurance, banking and real estate company that caters to military and veterans. So, it’s not surprising that she recommends making sure you have renters or homeowners insurance that covers moving household goods and storage.

Her company’s website also offers a free, downloadable, 20-page PCS Guide. And USAA members can connect via social media for immediate feedback about their new duty station. And there’s a 16 point list of things to do for your next move.

Sec. Chuck Hagel’s Farewell – ‘People Depend on You’

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

Below is the farewell message from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – dated – February 13, 2015.

To the men and women of the Department of Defense:

When I joined the United States Army 48 years ago, I could not have imagined one day serving as secretary of defense. It has been a tremendous privilege to serve with you.

As I leave office, I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together over the past two years.

We have responsibly ended our combat operations in Afghanistan and begun the follow-on mission to preserve our achievements there.

We have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, while successfully responding to crises around the world.

We have launched vital reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges of the future.

We have fought hard – and made real progress – against the scourge of sexual assault in our ranks.

And after 13 years of war, we have worked to restore our military readiness and ease the burdens on our people and their families.

Through it all, many of you, and your families, coped with shutdowns and furloughs; weathered hiring and pay freezes; and endured long hours and longer deployments. You did so because we each took an oath to defend our nation, our fellow citizens, and our way of life. And you have lived up to your word.

But as you know well, the world is still too dangerous, and threats too numerous. I know you will remain vigilant, continuing your important work under the leadership of Ash Carter.

A special note to our men and women in uniform: of all the many opportunities my life has given me, I am most proud of having once been a soldier. The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty – I have carried these with me throughout my life. As your secretary of defense, I have seen those same traits in each of you.

Whether you serve in uniform or as a civilian, you are the reason why our military is the finest in the world and the most admired and most trusted institution in America. Nothing has clarified my thinking, nothing has renewed my hope, and nothing has made me prouder than getting to know, work, and serve with so many of you who have put the nation’s interest above your own.

If I had any parting guidance, it would be the same reminder that my drill sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class William Joyce, gave to me after I finished basic training in 1967: “People depend on you. They’ll always depend on you.”

That was true for me then, and it is true for all of you today. People depend on you – America depends on you – to live up to your oath, to conduct yourselves in keeping with our highest standards, and to perform as the greatest military the world has ever known. After two years serving with you, I am confident you will continue to do so.

You and your families have my deepest gratitude and admiration.

Thank you for your unflagging service and your commitment to this country. May God bless America and each and every one of you.

 

CENTCOM Twitter and Facebook Accounts Hacked

(March 22, 2013) Members of the joint U.S. Central Command stand at attention as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CENTCOM commanders do the ceremonial "Passing of the Colors."

(March 22, 2013) Members of the joint U.S. Central Command stand at attention as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CENTCOM commanders do the ceremonial “Passing of the Colors.”

Either a group or an individual claiming to be a part of the Islamic State (ISIS), hacked two social media accounts belonging to US Central Command, which oversees Department of Defense operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, according to Politico.

The first tweet following the hack read, “AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS,” and linked to a longer statement threatening American soldiers and their families. The hackers also targeted Centcom’s YouTube page, posting ISIS propaganda videos.

The attacks happened earlier in the day as President Barack Obama was emphasizing the importance of cyber security to keep citizens safe from identity theft. As of 1:15 p.m., Politico reports that Twitter has suspended the CENTCOM account. The YouTube account also is suspended.

Breaking News: Defense Secretary Hagel to Leave Post

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

Not even two years into the job and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down according to the Washington Post.

Citing an anonymous defense source, the paper reports that Hagel will stay on until a new secretary is selected and approved by congress.

Rumors had intensified this month that Hagel’s time was short, though the former Republican senator from Nebraska has insisted in recent interviews that he was planning to stay at the Pentagon. The resignation was first reported by The New York Times.

A senior administration official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama initiated discussions with Hagel about leaving in October — shortly before the mid-term congressional elections that saw the president’s party take a beating.

The report further speculates that Hagel’s resignation could be just the first in a series of shake-ups among President Obama’s national security advisers.

 

More U.S. Troops Headed to Iraq to Advise and Train

An F/A-18 Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the ship conducts flight operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Oct. 27, 2014. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex King

An F/A-18 Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the ship conducts flight operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Oct. 27, 2014. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex King

Based on a request from the Iraqi government and a force assessment from US Central Command, additional American troops are headed to Iraq according to a report in the New York Times.

President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, the Defense Department said on Friday, a move that will double the number of those sent to advise and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State.

The Pentagon also said that American military advisers would establish a number of additional training sites across Iraq, in a significant expansion of the American military campaign against the Sunni militant group in Iraq and Syria. Officials in the office of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that a number of American military personnel would deploy specifically to Anbar province.

The new forces will be sent in two groups, one to advise Iraqi commanders and the second to train Iraqi soldiers.

The Department of Defense News reports there has been “significant” progress three months since the start of U.S. airstrikes against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) forces.

“I think we’re having a significant effect on the ISIL element,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, told an audience at the Atlantic Council. “The question is, how soon can we get the Iraqis to develop a capability to do what they need to do to sustain the effects and conditions that we’re going to create.”

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