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Anti-Vaccine Activist Memorialized

Courant Staff Writer,0,4454275.story 

September 13 2005

MANCHESTER -- Retired Air Force Reserves Lt. Col. Russell E. Dingle, a fierce opponent of mandatory anthrax inoculations in the military, was remembered Monday at a memorial service featuring a jet fly-over.

Dingle, 49, died Sept. 4 after battling cancer.

His family, military colleagues and friends nearly filled the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pray, sing and celebrate Dingle's life. Afterward, four A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog planes - the kind Dingle piloted - flew over the church, with one plane veering off and up into the hazy blue sky.

"I was reminded all over again of how powerful and passionate he was in his beliefs about integrity and public service, and how deeply inspiring he was to people who he came into contact with him as I did," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

It was Dingle and his friend, Air Force Reserve Maj. Thomas "Buzz" Rempfer, who persuaded Blumenthal to join their anti-inoculation effort five years ago. Since then Blumenthal has lobbied federal and state officials to halt the mandatory inoculations of those in the armed forces. U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-4th District, also became an anti-anthrax vaccine "warrior" and a Dingle admirer.

Dingle "was a leader in the effort to protect service members from the avoidable health risks posed by the Pentagon's mandatory use" of the anthrax vaccine, Shays said. "Connecticut and the nation have lost a talented pilot and a dedicated patriot."

Dingle, an East Hartford resident, never took the anthrax vaccine. In late 1997, the then-commander of the Connecticut Air National Guard, Col. Walter Burns, asked Rempfer and Dingle to investigate the vaccine. Their investigation found it was "unsafe" and "ineffective" and they demanded appropriate action. They were asked to resign instead.

They joined the Air Force Reserves and continued what many have described as a relentless effort to stop the Pentagon from using the vaccine.

Dingle's research led him to serve as an expert for the U.S. General Accountability Office, and induced mention of his name in a federal court in Washington's initial ruling against the vaccine.

"Over and over again, Russ provided the factual basis necessary to validate the legal arguments that prevailed in court," said Lou Michels, one of the lawyers involved in representing six anonymous military employees in the court challenge.

"His efforts provided an incalculable benefit to his fellow servicemen and women. Not a bad legacy for a Warthog pilot."

"The Pentagon's illegal experimentation on service members has gone on for decades," said retired Lt. Col. John Richardson, a gulf war veteran and fellow fighter pilot.

"Due to Col. Dingle's analysis of the military's anthrax vaccine policy, for the first time the Defense Department was caught in the act - and stopped by a federal court judge."

As an Air Force officer and fighter pilot, Dingle flew over 2,000 hours in the A-10 Thunderbolt II on active duty, and served as an instructor pilot and a flight commander for the Connecticut Air National Guard.

Dingle won multiple Air National Guard "Top Gun" flying awards, and was chosen to lead a flight of A-10s in the U.S. Air Force Gunsmoke competition in 1993.

After retiring from the military, Dingle was a pilot for American Airlines for 16 years.

Dingle is survived by his wife, Jane; daughters Megan and Emma; three brothers; one sister; and his mother.
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant