Why I think the USAF Surgeon General’s Office wanted St. Clair Switzer to be their liaison to Project Artichoke

In the spring of 1951, St. Clair Switzer was in a predicament. The war was on in Korea, and he’d been ordered to report to Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama, for a four-day processing period to determine his eligibility for active duty as an instructor at Air University. Making matters worse, he’d received his orders at around noon on April 14, a Saturday, and he was expected to show up at Maxwell by 2 p.m. on Monday, April 16, which isn’t a whole lot of notice. Although he may have managed to make the trip to Alabama for the required four days, there wasn’t enough time for him to obtain a written statement from Miami officials as to whether they approved his release for active duty or if they would request a delay. On April 21, Ernest Hahne, Miami University’s president, wrote a letter to George C. Kenney, commanding general of Air University, scolding him for the ridiculously tight turnaround, and letting him know how important Dr. Switzer was at Miami, what with his teaching and advising responsibilities and all. 

“It is our urgent request that Professor Switzer be released from this call to duty at this time,” Hahne wrote.

Hahne’s letter worked. Switzer didn’t become an instructor at Air University in 1951.

Nevertheless, the Air Force didn’t put Switzer’s name at the bottom of the pile either. In June of that same year, Major H.G. Rollins, chief of the Military Training Branch at the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, Md., had reached out to Switzer, seeking assistance. Rollins had been placed in charge of a high-level project that involved the recruitment of scientific personnel, and a friend of Switzer’s from his WWII glory days had volunteered his name as someone who could potentially help in that cause. As usual, Doc Switzer was ready and willing to hightail it out of Oxford. (Truth be told, I think he’d have been happy to relocate to Alabama too if President Hahne hadn’t interceded.) Doc submitted his lengthy application one day after receiving the form, and by August 6, 1951, he was on the government’s payroll, working in the Sun Building at 5 West Baltimore Street. 

I’m sure he loved it. Who among us doesn’t adore that gritty city with its glittery Inner Harbor, its memorial to master poet and writer of scary stories Edgar Allan Poe, and its crab cakes? (My God, the crab cakes.) As for his living arrangements, he was staying in room 1022 of the iconic Emerson Hotel. Niiiiice, Doc.

According to records I’ve obtained, Switzer worked for the ARDC from August 6 through the pay period ending September 22, 1951, and he was paid $35 per day. That may not sound like much, but during that month and a half period, Switzer earned a gross income of $910, which translates to roughly $10,679 in today’s dollars. That’s pretty good in this girl’s opinion, especially when you factor in the prestigiousness of the position.

Because, make no mistake, working for the ARDC was pretty huge. It was officially established in April 1951 to oversee all research and development for the Air Force.

I probably need to say that last part once more with the caps lock turned on: the ARDC oversaw ALL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT FOR THE AIR FORCE.  

As in all of it.  

As in every last bit.  

Although its initial home was Wright Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio—a place I’ve mentioned before on this blogsite—in June 1951, an “advanced echelon” was moved to Baltimore and “charged with recruiting additional scientific personnel,” according to that month’s Air Corps Newsletter.

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So if the ARDC was started in April of 1951 and an advanced echelon of the ARDC had moved to Baltimore in June of 1951, then St. Clair Switzer, who’d been approached by Major Rollins also in June of 1951, was getting in on the ground floor. As far as Switzer’s role in the operation goes, he submitted the following blurb to a Miss Marshall for publication in the autumn 1951 issue of Benton Bulletin, a newsletter that was ostensibly written for university administrators occupying Miami’s Benton Hall:

“Prof. S.A. Switzer spent August and the first part of September as a civilian consultant with the headquarters of the Air Research & Development Command in Baltimore. Dr. Switzer assisted in formulating the long-range training program for Reserve officer scientists who have research and development assignments in the Air Force.”

Doc went on to tell Miss Marshall that “I am enjoying this work very much, and I believe that I am being much more useful to the Air Force in this assignment than I would have been in the one for which they planned to call me to active duty last June.” 

He’s probably referring to the Air University gig in that last comment. Sadly, nowhere in his four-page letter does he mention the crab cakes.

So, in sum, the ARDC was very big and very important and, consequently, it would have had the attention of big and important people within the Air Force.

With all of this in mind, let’s now direct our attention to a CIA memo that had been written on September 23, 1952.

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The memo was written almost a year to the day after St. Clair Switzer had ostensibly stopped working for the ARDC. I say “ostensibly” because there were signs that he had some sort of ongoing working relationship with them. On January 2, 1952, again, ostensibly after his ARDC stint was over, he’d applied for a Social Security account number and listed the Air Force as his employer. For his employer’s address, he wrote down ARDC’s address on West Baltimore Street. (If you’re wondering why he didn’t already have a Social Security number, he hadn’t needed one before that time. Then as now, Miami University employees were enrolled in a separate public retirement system.) 

St. Clair Switzer’s Social Security application; click on image for a closer view.

The number assigned to Doc Switzer was 216-32-8226, with the “216” prefix designated for Baltimore applicants. Based on the history of how Social Security numbers were assigned in those days, his number tells me that he must have been in Baltimore the day after New Year’s in 1952, when Miami U was still on break, to submit his application. He would’ve had to get back on the road soon, however. Classes were scheduled to start the next day.

So the question of whether he continued working for ARDC every so often—be it remotely, at Wright Patterson AFB perhaps, or through some other arrangement—or if his work ended in September 1951 remains a small mystery.

Back to the memo of September 23, 1952, which is four paragraphs long. I’d now like to dissect this memo, paragraph by paragraph, to see if anything new can be gleaned from it. But first, to help with our dissection, I’ve isolated a couple letters that were typed within that same memo which I think will come in handy in certain places.

Here’s a capital S.

And here’s a lower-case r. 

Let’s go!

Paragraph 1 – The transfer

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We really don’t care about paragraph 1. When the memo was written, Project Artichoke had been handed over to the Inspection and Security Office by the Office of Scientific Intelligence, and they were busily working through the logistics of that transfer. No big revelations here.

Paragraph 2 – The doctor who had ‘nothing to contribute’

Paragraph 2 focuses on a doctor whose redacted name is mentioned in the first line. The consensus concerning the doctor was that he had “nothing to contribute in the line of research.” Above the noncontributing doctor’s name are the words “U.S. commander,” which is a clue to his identity.   

A “commander” could be someone in the Navy or the Coast Guard as is shown on the below chart.

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But if you look above those lines on the chart, you’ll see that the rank of commander is the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the Army, Marines, or Air Force. Indeed, in military speak, lieutenant colonels are also considered commanders, in that they are put in command of various types of squadrons. The person who wrote the term above the doctor’s crossed-out name could have been referring to a Naval officer, sure, but they also could have been using the term generically. 

We can whittle down the possibilities even further since only the Army, Navy, and Air Force were involved with Project Artichoke. I happen to believe the person with the pen was referring to someone in the Air Force. You’ll see why in the next section. 

Next, if you zoom in on the redacted name of the U.S. commander, a few letters appear to stand out, with some standing out more than others. Do I think the first letter of the first name looks a lot like a capital S? I do, but, admittedly, it’s iffy. Does there appear to be a second capital S beneath the “n/d” in commander? There kinda does, but again, I wouldn’t stake my life on it. We’re going to go the conservative route here and say that it appears that the last letter in his last name is an r. 

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Finally, as we discussed in a previous post, someone from OTS—the Office of Technical Service, which was run by Sidney Gottlieb—may have visited the doctor/U.S. commander on September 19, 1952, to explore the question of whether he might be able to contribute to Artichoke research. 

To summarize, I believe the 2nd paragraph is telling us that a commander in the U.S. military (which will be narrowed down further in the next paragraph) whose last name ends with an r had been considered for Artichoke research, though the consensus was that he had nothing to contribute. Someone affiliated with Sidney Gottlieb’s group may have explored that question with him during a visit on September 19, 1952. Moving on… 

Paragraph 3 – The colonels 

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Although there are still areas of uncertainty, I think we can put together a few more pieces to the puzzle that is paragraph 3.

The first thing we notice is that the term Col. is placed in front of a number of names throughout paragraphs 3 and 4, which means we can eliminate the Navy. The Navy doesn’t have colonels. Therefore, the writer is speaking about people from the Army or Air Force. And because we already know from paragraph 3 of the January 14, 1953, memo that a major in the USAF’s medical corps (whom I believe to be Louis J. West) is being considered for a well-balanced interrogation research center in addition to a certain lieutenant colonel (whom I believe to be St. Clair Switzer), I think we can safely conclude that they’re talking about the Air Force in this memo too. So Air Force it is. On this I will stake my life.

If it’s the Air Force we’re talking about (and it is), then the surgeon general who’s referenced in paragraph 3 has to be the Air Force’s surgeon general at that time, Major General Harry G. Armstrong.

Major General Harry George Armstrong

In order to be a surgeon general, you need to have a medical degree, and Major General Armstrong had received his in 1925 from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He was the second person to serve as surgeon general of the Air Force, succeeding his mentor, General Malcom Grow, in 1949.

In 1939, Armstrong published Principles and Practice of Aviation Medicine, which was groundbreaking at the outset and remained the field’s authoritative text for decades. According to a write-up in the February 2011 issue of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, his research focused on protecting the body against the dangers of high altitudes, such as extreme temperatures and reduced oxygen levels. After General Grow successfully spearheaded the creation of the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB, Armstrong became its first director, overseeing the laboratory from 1934 to 1940. I’m sure when he moved to the Surgeon General’s Office, in Washington, D.C., in 1949, he continued to have a soft spot for his old stomping ground in Dayton, Ohio.

Despite the above accomplishments, Armstrong and Grow were the men whose brains had conjured up Operation Paperclip. As you may recall, Operation Paperclip was the infamous military operation in which Nazis with strong scientific credentials were brought to the United States, many to Wright Patterson AFB, so that the U.S. could benefit from their expertise. Operation Paperclip was also viewed as a defensive move, to prevent the Soviets from getting to those scientists first. The name originates from the sanitized cover sheets that were paperclipped to the Nazis’ papers to help move the process along.  

So…there’s that.

Back to paragraph 3. Let’s skip over the first part, especially the part about the person they were going to go easy on from a security standpoint because he had a “propensity to talk.” I still don’t have an inkling of who that person was, and I can’t understand why someone from the CIA would want to go easy on anyone who had such a propensity.

Instead, let’s focus on the last sentence of paragraph 3. 

Without worrying too much about the owners of the names that have been redacted, let’s first concentrate on what the writer is saying: According to the new Artichoke protocol, OTS (aka the Office of Technical Service, which was led by Sidney Gottlieb) “will be obligated to check with OS” (aka the Office of Security, led by Sheffield Edwards) and OS (the Office of Security) “would automatically check with REDACTED in view of the fact that REDACTED is a consultant of, and of primary interest to the Surgeon General.”

In other words, according to the last sentence of paragraph 3, even though Harry G. Armstrong’s name has never been officially linked to Project Artichoke, certainly not to the degree in which Sidney Gottlieb’s has, he appears to have had veto power over Sidney Gottlieb when it came to the Air Force’s involvement in Project Artichoke. 

So…there’s that too.

And what of the person with whom the Office of Security was supposed to check? That person’s name—likely his surname—began with the letter S. Clearly. There is no other letter that fits. 

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Paragraph 4—the person who needed to be ‘cut into the picture’

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In 1952, the USAF’s Office of the Surgeon General was composed of the following people:

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The colonel from that office—the one with whom another colonel had recently spoken—was in all probability Col. Jack Buel, who was in charge of special projects for the Surgeon General’s Office. (The other colonel in the office was an assistant for veterinary service, so it couldn’t have been him.) As it so happens, Jack Buel had earned a Ph.D. in psychology from UC Berkeley in 1935, one year after Switzer had earned his Ph.D. at Yale. Before his time with the Office of the Surgeon General, Buel had published articles on finger mazes and polygraphs. A few of his later publications are listed on the National Library of Medicine’s biomedical research website known as PubMed.

I believe that it was Col. Buel who advised the other colonel whose name is redacted that “he thinks very highly of REDACTED and that it will be essential to keep him cut into the picture.” As I’ve stated in a previous post, I think that Doc Switzer is the person that the Surgeon General’s Office thought very highly of and whose involvement they wished to retain. But I was having a tough time figuring out how they would have known him. As you may recall, I thought perhaps Switzer had conducted behind-the-scenes book research for the Air Force or CIA since he lived so close to the Armed Services Technical Information Agency, in downtown Dayton. Who knows, maybe he still did that. I also thought the word “research” above the person’s redacted name was how they wished for him to be used in the Artichoke project—to do book research for them perhaps.

I guess what bothered me about that theory was the illegible word in front of the word “research” above the redacted name. It appeared to be a short word of three letters. The letters are light and slanty and difficult to decipher. 

But after spending some time zooming in on those letters very closely, I now believe I know what’s written there. Air. As in Air Research.

Where have we seen that phrase before?  

OK, so let’s put together everything we’ve learned to see if we can make sense of things:  

A doctor—maybe an M.D., maybe a Ph.D.—who was also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and whose last name ended with an r had been considered by the CIA for possible Artichoke research. However, the consensus was that they didn’t feel he could contribute.

On another front, according to a new protocol, a person whose name starts with the letter S was to be the USAF surgeon general’s point person for Project Artichoke. The CIA’s Office of Technical Service would first check with the Office of Security, which, in turn, would approach the surgeon general’s point person, a Mr.—or Dr.—S for his input and approval. 

Finally, an official in the Office of the Surgeon General whom I believe to be Jack Buel made it clear to a fellow colonel that someone that the CIA was on the fence about—quite feasibly the doctor/lieutenant colonel from paragraph 2—was essential to the program. And the reason was because Buel (and, by extension, Harry G. Armstrong) thought highly of this person, who had experience in “air research.”  

And what do we know about air research? We know that if a person had experience with air research, then they likely had connections to the ARDC, since the ARDC oversaw all research and development for the Air Force. 

Final thoughts

There are still plenty of details we can’t be sure about. We don’t know if the doctor/lieutenant colonel whose name ends in r is the same guy as the surgeon general’s point person whose name starts with S.

We don’t even know if the surgeon general’s point person whose name starts with S is the same person as the consultant who was of “primary interest to the Surgeon General.”

With that being said, I think it’s likely that the doctor/lieutenant colonel (whose name ends in r) was the person that the CIA was considering cutting out of the picture, and therefore, the person that Jack Buel stood up for. For that reason, I think the doctor/lieutenant colonel was the same person who had work experience with the ARDC. 

Was this person St. Clair Switzer? If it was, then Doc Switzer had the ear of the USAF Surgeon General’s Office, and they had requested him as their liaison to Project Artichoke.

I can’t imagine him saying no, can you?

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1 month ago

He really did have plenty of space to talk about crab cakes. How disappointing.

1 month ago

By “air research,” would that be something like, I dunno, heading up the Test Construction Unit of Occupational Standards, Civilian Personnel Section, during the war?