Southwick Research

An Autobiographical Collection of Observations and Investigations

by J. Wanless Southwick, Ph.D.

 

 

 

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Military Entomology Research

Fresh out of Army ROTC in 1966, with a commission in the Army Medical Service Corps and a masters degree in Entomology from Utah State University, I was assigned to the Army Environmental Hygiene Agency at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, to do entomological research. We investigated methods of surveying and controlling mosquito populations, specifically in support of the ongoing Vietnam War. It was there that I designed a novel "tee-design" aspirator for the collection of insects, like mosquitoes.

In 1967 I was sent to Korea, where I served as the Officer in Charge of the 5th Preventive Medicine Unit Laboratory at Camp Nabors, near Seoul, Korea. The laboratory was responsible for assessing the status of arthropod borne diseases in South Korea, which could impact the effectiveness of military troops. The laboratory had a network of mosquito light traps throughout South Korea so we could evaluate the threat of mosquito borne diseases. With the prospect of a 13-month tour of duty in Korea, I set out to find meaningful work for myself and others in my command. A newspaper article (PDF 0.87 MB) was written about the laboratory's work. We decided on an ambitious project to survey the South Korean peninsula for ectoparasites (fleas, lice, ticks and mites), which were then suspected of playing a role in Korean Epidemic Hemorrhagic Fever. That disease had caused many casualties during the Korean War. At the time of my service there, military hostilities in Korea were relatively quiet and a lot of military resources could be used in support of our medical research projects.

Arthropod Borne Diseases in South Korea: Arthropod borne diseases were a significant health problem during the Korean War. Some, like malaria, had a dramatic increase as the hostilities broke out. The 5th Preventive Medicine Unit Laboratory updated a locally produced "technical bulletin" on arthropod diseases in South Korea and published it as the 5th Preventive Medicine Unit's "Technical Bulletin No.3" (PDF 0.73 MB). It described the historical and seasonal patterns of Malaria, Japanese B Encephalitis, Epidemic Hemorrhagic Fever, and Epidemic Typhus. It also reviewed Relapsing Fever, Filariasis, Scrub Typhus, Plague, Dengue Fever, "Filth Diseases" (including typhoid and dysentery), Paragonimiasis (oriental lung fluke), dipylidiasis (tapeworm), and Heartworm of Dogs. To cope with these diseases, the 5th Preventive Medicine Unit Laboratory gathered data about mosquitoes, other insects, and other arthropods, and disseminated its findings to medical officers in the 65th Medical Group, 8th Army, in South Korea.

South Korean Mosquito Report: During 1967, more mosquitoes were collected by the 5th Preventive Medicine Unit Laboratory than any previous year. Surveying mosquito populations began in 1959. By 1962 an extensive network of mosquito light traps had been established throughout South Korea. Standard "New Jersey" light traps were placed at military installations, usually connected to security lighting systems. Trapped mosquitoes were collected, boxed and shipped to the laboratory by local military personnel. Korean entomologists at the laboratory would sort the mosquitoes by species, count them, and record the data. These data, together with data from previous years, were compiled into a six-year mosquito survey report, 1962-1967 (PDF 3.0 MB). The report includes a map of South Korea, showing where the mosquito light traps were located, graphs and tables of the seasonal prevalence of each species, and annual summaries of species collected for each light trap throughout South Korea.  

Ectoparasite Survey of South Korea: Soon after arriving in Korea, I arranged to visit the 406th Medical Laboratory in Japan, where I met with entomologist LTC Vernon J. Tipton and virologist Captain Ned Wiebenga. We discussed how little was known about Korean epidemic hemorrhagic fever. We decided that a survey of the ectoparasites of South Korea would be valuable contribution to the research. Back in Korea, I gathered my laboratory staff for a strategy session. On a large map of South Korea, we marked a sequences of sampling locations where we might collect rodents. Then we sought and received support for the medical research project from 8th Army headquarters.

We used a laboratory van (mounted on a 2 1/2 ton truck) and a jeep with a small trailer to transport a survey team of four men from one designated survey site to the next. I would select the next survey site from a detailed topographic map and then take a member of the next survey team in a OH-23 helicopter to evaluate the site and the roads to get there. At first the teams drove to the survey sites and then drove back to the lab with the specimens that they collected at the end of the week. Later, as the survey sites became more distant from Camp Nabors, we started using a UH-21 (banana-shaped) helicopter to transport the next survey team (together with a supply of food and fuel) to the current survey site, picking up the old survey team and their rodent specimens for transport back to the Camp Nabors laboratory, and sending the new survey team off by road to the next survey site. I would usually use a OH-23 helicopter to check on the survey team about the mid-point of their survey to pick up frozen rodent specimens and to check on their progress. Then each rodent specimen was given an identification number and processed in the laboratory by Korean entomologists. Ectoparasites were combed from the rodents, mounted on microscope slides, and identified taxonomically. Rodent skulls and skins were preserved for future taxonomic reference. 

One of the locations we wanted to survey was the island of Cheju, which is located off the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula. When the survey team got to Pusan, we arranged to have the Korean Navy load our survey vehicles onto LSM 613, a landing ship with a ramp. It was a tight squeeze, but we got them and the survey vehicles on board and shipped them off to Cheju Island. It took three days to get to the island and they had trouble getting the vehicles through the sand on the beach. The U.S. Air Force provided a cargo plane to take a new survey team to the island and pick up the old team. The island survey yielded several unusual species of animals. Then, on January 22, 1968, military tensions ran high as word of 31 communist infiltrators arrived in a classified message. The next day a secret-flash message alerted us that the North Koreans had captured a U.S. vessel (USS Pueblo) in international waters. Suddenly, the support for our medical research project dropped. The Air Force was too busy to transport us. The Korean Navy landing ship, which was scheduled to pick up our survey vehicles, had been diverted. We were stranded on the island of Cheju. The tension did not escalate, so in a few more days we finally got our survey team and vehicles back. The next five months were spent processing specimens and preparing the data for publication.

Towards the end of my tour of duty in Korea, we sent our survey team and vehicles back to Cheju to collect more specimens and to support a Korean entomologist, Dr. Kim, in her filarisis research on the island.

The "Ectoparasite Survey of South Korea" (PDF 11.2 MB) report was designed to preserve a record of the ectoparasite species, host species, and collection locations for future reference by subsequent researchers. It shows a map of survey locations in South Korea, a checklist of ectoparasites by host, and taxonomic keys to mites and sucking lice. The bulk of the report is a listing of each ectoparasite species found, showing the specific host animal, date of collection, locality and grid coordinates of collection site, the collector, and number of parasites for that specific host animal. 

The value of our work was recognized in a Letter of Appreciation from the Surgeon General of the Republic of Korea Navy and a U.S. Army Commendation Medal.

In August, 2009, Dr. Pyong Ui Roh, emailed me to explain that after I left Korea, Camp Nabors was closed down. The 5th Preventive Medicine Unit was relocated to Ascom, near Inchon where it occupied the old 121st Evacuation Hospital buildings. "We had a wonderful space and facilities.... All members moved to Ascom area, but unfortunately one night the buildings of old 121 hospital were burnt down. We lost all specimens, books and equipment. Every body cried because of the loss of the treasure we had accumulated," said Dr. Roh. The Unit's headquarters and survey team moved to Camp Red Clouds, in Ui Jongbu (Camp Mosier?).

Later, in 1972, Stan Malcolm took charge of the 5th Preventive Medicine Unit Laboratory, "just [as it was] starting to recover from a fire that destroyed much of the unit's materials and equipment."

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