Apr 14, 2013

Blickenstaff featured in War Era Story Project’s 4th installment

COLUMBUS – The fourth installment of the War Era Story Project has been released by the Ohio Departments of Aging and Veterans Services. This collection turns the spotlight to the home front with a collection of 21 stories of men, women and children whose lives were impacted by World War II despite being far from the fighting.

Delbert Blickenstaff, M.D., of Greenville, is included in this installment. Dr. Blickenstaff worked in a national forest, mental hospital and farm. He was inspired to pursue medicine and volunteered for a nutrition experiment conducted by the Army.

The following is his story.

In 1943, I took my physical exam for the draft and passed even though I have been deaf in my right ear since age 12. I was drafted for three years into Civilian Public Service (CPS) and was sent to camp Wellston in the Manistee National Forest in Michigan. Camp Wellston was a converted Civilian Conservation camp and we inductees did regular forestry work, including fighting a forest fire. In addition, we planted and cultivated trees and sawed some trees down for firewood using two-man crosscut saws.

In the fall of 1943, I transferred to the CPS unit at Dayton State Hospital for mental patients. After a few months of being locked on the ward of men mental patients for 12 hour shifts, I requested a transfer to the Dayton State Hospital farm. This was a large dairy farm where we milked 100 Holstein cows every eight hours, plus did regular farm work in the fields. Not having grown up on a farm, I learned a lot, including artificial insemination of the cows.

Previous to my CPS experience, I had studied art and music thinking that I would become a commercial artist or a teacher. However, while at the farm, I suddenly got the idea of becoming a doctor. So, I started taking pre-med classes at the University of Dayton.

In 1945, I volunteered to be a human guinea pig for a nutrition experiment. This project was run jointly by the Physiology Department of Northwestern University Medical School and the Army Nutrition Lab in Chicago. The people responsible for planning and conducting the experiment were Dr. Andrew C. Ivy, Major George Berryman and Dr. Friedemann. There were seven of us volunteers, and all we knew at the beginning was that the subject of the experiment was Pellagra, a disease caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B 1, Niacin. In this country, Pellagra is most commonly found in the southern states where the diet often consisted mainly of salt pork and cornbread.

We seven subjects were housed in Abbott Hall on the lake front, and we ate our meals in Passavant Hospital, where Dr. Friedemann's Biochemistry lab was located. The general plan of the experiment was to put us on a normal, healthy diet for three months, then for six months five of us would go on a vitamin B1 deficient diet and the other two (controls) would be given B1. Finally, in our last three months, we all were given a healthy diet with vitamin supplements. All seven of us ate the same food throughout the experiment, the difference being the pills we received. The two control subjects got vitamin B1and the rest of us got placebos. Of course, the pills all looked alike, so at first we didn't know who the controls were. We were able to figure that out because some of us developed mild signs of Pellagra during phase two of the experiment.

These stories join 87 others that were posted previously. The agencies received nearly 300 submissions and will continue to release them in small batches until all have shared.

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