The Chemical Corps Begins Its Fall
On March 13, 1968, an Air Force F-4 aircraft released 320 gallons of VX from two TMU-28B spray tanks on a target area deep within Dugway Proving Ground (DPG), Utah. At least 80 percent of the two tanks emptied as the plane traveled at 150 feet from the ground on an azimuth of 315 degrees true. Five seconds after passing over the target, the plane dropped its tanks prior to its return to its airfield. On March 15, ranchers reported to Dugway officials that they had over 4,300 ill sheep, some dying, in Skull Valley, Utah, nearly thirty miles away. No conclusive evidence of nerve agent poisoning was apparent to state or federal officials first on the scene of the mysterious illnesses, nor were any humans affected by whatever was hurting the sheep. The Army later admitted to negligence and paid more than $376,000 in compensation for the sheep and an additional $198,000 for range damages. 1 Those are the reported facts. This story has been exaggerated for years as the ultimate example of a loosely-monitored weapons development program as well as the dangers of a military CB weapons stockpile.
Dr. C. Grant Ash, then scientific director of Deseret Test Center, Fort Douglas, Utah, recently returned to the "scene of the crime" to piece together the other side of the story of what had happened that spring in 1968. His investigations are related here, combined with details from the Army's official record of investigation, along with Major General (retired) John Appel's notes. 2 Then-Brigadier GeneralJohn Appel was the new commander of Deseret Test Center, located next to Dugway Proving Ground. This was his first assignment as a general officer, literally the most junior flag officer of the Chemical Corps. He was told to stay out of the limelight, as the "new kid on block" and given his future command of Dugway Proving Ground later that summer (Deseret was integrated into DPG in July 1968). Nearly every day, Brigadier General Appel would discuss the latest political and scientific findings of the sheep illness mystery with Dr. Ash and the two deputy commanders at Deseret (an Air Force colonel and Navy captain). 3 As the Deseret Test Center personnel saw it, much of the investigation was political, not scientific. The desire to identify what had gone wrong was abandoned in favor