Since publishing NPR's database of World War II troops who were used in mustard gas experiments, we have received hundreds of responses from veterans and their families that ask many of the same questions. Here are answers to most of them:
How can I access the database?
The database can be found here. It is best viewed using Firefox or Chrome browsers. Due to its size, it may take some time to load.
Can I be certain that an entry in the database refers to me/my family member with the same name? And why is there missing information from some entries?
Sixteen million Americans served in World War II, and at least 60,000 were used in testing with mustard gas. Within those large groups are many people who share the same name, middle initial, birth month and year. We have attempted to include as many data points as possible to maximize the level of confirmation that families can glean from our database, but 100 percent certainty cannot be established from the information provided. Most of the names in this database came from official Army and Navy records, some of which were too limited to cross-reference with public records.
Where can I learn more about my own/my family member's military experience, in an attempt to confirm whether I/he was exposed to mustard gas?
Military personnel records, maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, are the most comprehensive records of veterans' military service provided by the federal government. Those records can be requested by veterans or their family members here.
It is important to note that a 1975 fire destroyed millions of personnel records for veterans who served in World War II, including the records of more than 80 percent of Army veterans who served between 1912 and 1960. Also, evidence of mustard gas testing was not recorded in all of the test subjects' military personnel records.
If you or your relative was in the Army, you may also find enlistment records at this website, maintained by the National Archives.
What are the different types of mustard gas testing that were conducted?
Most of the 60,000 troops used in mustard gas testing were subjected to "patch tests," where drops of liquid mustard agent were applied directly onto the test subject's skin.
Roughly 4,000 men had what the military calls "full-body exposure" to mustard gas in two types of more extreme experiments: chamber tests, where test subjects were locked inside heated gas chambers filled with mustard gas; and field tests, where test subjects were sprayed from overhead during outdoor combat drills.
How does mustard gas affect the human body?
Nitrogen and sulfur mustard are vesicants, or blistering agents. Not all test subjects in World War II mustard gas experiments experienced health repercussions, but the tests have been linked to illnesses including chronic conjunctivitis, keratitis, corneal opacities, scar formation, nasopharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer, lung cancer (except mesothelioma), squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, chronic laryngitis, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
More research about the impact of mustard gas experiments on human test subjects can be found in this 1993 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine: Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite.
More information about mustard agent, provided by the Centers for Disease Control, can be found here.
Is our family eligible for compensation?
Veterans who sustained permanent injuries from full-body exposure to mustard gas are eligible for compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. NPR cannot aid or consult your family in filing a claim. The VA's website for World War II mustard gas exposures can be found here. Veterans service organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans may be able to help.
I/my family member is not on the list, does that mean I/he wasn't used in the testing?
No, our list is not complete. NPR has submitted federal records requests that may yield additional names that can be added to our database, but even then, it will not be comprehensive.
This is because some records of mustard gas testing were never recovered. Department of Defense officials tell NPR that this can be attributed to the scale of the testing, the urgency of the war effort that sometimes resulted in bad record keeping, and that many of the tests were conducted at military outposts that were closed after the war.
The Veterans History Project, maintained by the Library of Congress, is a library of text, audio and video interviews with veterans, including some World War II veterans who were used in mustard gas testing.
StoryCorps is an oral history project and repository of audio testimonials intended to preserve the human experience. Their work is regularly featured on NPR. You can use the StoryCorps app to record your family member's experience in mustard gas testing or your experience learning about it.