Just in time, I suppose, for the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the debris on the Foster Ranch–which, if you accept the version that says that happened on June 14, would be two weeks from today. (Got plans for the celebration?)
I don’t have any “Open Sesame” for the complex and bewildering riddle that’s defined UFOlogy in the popular mind for the past few decades. I don’t think a crashed spaceship is very likely to be the answer. My old friend Jerry Clark has shown why: if the remains of an extraterrestrial vehicle had been in the hands of the US government for the equivalent of a full human lifetime, there’s no way this historic event wouldn’t have cast its shadows across the world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. No such shadows have been even faintly perceptible.
A little over a week ago, I received an email from a gentleman in Rome, Italy, named Osvaldo Carigi, author of the recently published book Voci da Roswell. Osvaldo is preparing a second edition of the book, and asked to interview me for it. Which, through an exchange of emails, we proceeded to do.
Our correspondence helped me to concentrate my thoughts on the historical question of Roswell–what was the original stimulus, the grain of sand in the oyster’s shell that provoked the growth of the Roswell tradition? In an earlier post, I’ve distinguished this question from the tradition-historical and social-psychological issues posed by Roswell, which in my opinion are considerably more important. But the historical question has priority, not in scale of values but in point of time (to borrow a phrase from George Orwell.)
There are, I wrote to Osvaldo, two bedrock facts about Roswell, the truth of which is beyond all question.
The first bedrock fact: that at noon or shortly afterward on Tuesday, July 8, 1947, the public information officer at Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release saying that “the many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves county.”
The press release continued: “The flying object landed [note well: not crashed] on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week [contradicting the version that has the debris discovered on June 14]. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the Sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence office.
“Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned [? probably an error for “flown”] by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.”
The officer who issued this release was Lieutenant Walter G. Haut. There seems to be some uncertainty whether Haut acted (1) on the orders of the base commander, Colonel William Blanchard, (2) on his own but with Blanchard’s tacit approval, or (3) on his own and without Blanchard’s knowledge, later getting into trouble. I have not collated the different versions of this point; if some ambitious (and probably youthful) UFOlogist wants to put together the “Roswell synopsis” of which I’ve dreamed, I’ll hope to see them laid out in parallel columns.
“Higher headquarters” for the Eighth Air Force, in any case, was Fort Worth Army Air Field. And this leads us to …
The second bedrock fact: that on that very same evening, Tuesday, July 8, a photographer from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was invited to the office of General Roger Ramey, commanding officer of the Eighth Air Force at Fort Worth AAF. There three officers–Ramey, his chief of staff Colonel Thomas DuBose, and Jesse Marcel from Roswell–posed for photos beside a pile of junk on the office floor which obviously had once been a weather balloon or something of the kind. This, the press was given to understand, was the “landed disc” that had set the news media buzzing a few hours earlier. (“Gen. Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer” was the next day’s headline in the Roswell Daily Record.)
In the photos, Ramey and DuBose look delighted with themselves. I can’t read Marcel’s expression. This is important, since Marcel was later to say of the photos of the balloon remains: “That’s not the stuff I picked up.” So in posing with it, was he unwillingly following his superiors’ orders? If so, can we detect in his face the tension I’d expect of someone forced to take part in a deception?
I’m not sure. In the photo at the bottom of this post, from the University of Texas at Arlington “Roswell Photo Collection,” Marcel appears to form a smile with his lips. Yet, looking upward, his eyes are wide and startled.
(And were these photos ever published, in the Star-Telegram or any other newspaper, before Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore reproduced them in their 1980 book The Roswell Incident? If not–and I’ve seen no reference to any 1947 publication of them–why not? Why were they not used for the purpose for which they plainly were intended?)
Both of these “bedrock facts” are beyond doubt, and they fit uneasily with each other. It’s difficult to think of a hypothesis that will accommodate them both.
If the military in Fort Worth pulled a switcheroo, as Marcel’s later testimony has led many to believe, what exactly was it that the balloon remains took the place of? (I’ve already said why I can’t believe it was a crashed UFO.) And where did they get these remains on a few hours’ notice? I can’t believe they had ruined weather balloons lying around a closet on the base somewhere, for just such an occasion as this.
But the alternative–that the junk photographed on the floor of Ramey’s office really was the debris recovered from the Foster Ranch–comes with problems of its own.
(1) How could Haut’s press release have described it as a “disc” that had “landed,” language that surely implies a single, solid, more or less intact object? (2) How could the people at the Roswell Army Air Field, who weren’t idiots, have taken such stuff so very seriously? Didn’t it leap out at them, even without “inspection,” that what they had in their hands was torn-up balloons? Why did they need not only to “inspect” the debris but to fly it to Fort Worth so “higher headquarters” could inspect it as well?
The first objection continues to trouble me. I can think, however, of one possible response to the second. What if the RAAF officers knew perfectly well they were dealing with balloons that had come down to earth, but weren’t sure whose balloons these were? What if they suspected the worst–namely, that a nest of Soviet spies had planted itself on the other side of the Mexican border, and was using balloons to spy on the military installations in New Mexico? Their suspicion may or may not have been realistic in the early Cold-War context; that doesn’t matter. Until it could be definitively ruled out, the Roswell debris had to be taken with the utmost gravity.
Of course this is speculation. It’s not, however, without basis. On page 96 of Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe, Karl Pflock quotes Ethel Simms, whom he describes as Colonel Blanchard’s “first wife,” as having told William Moore that Blanchard at first “thought it might be Russian because of the strange symbols on it. Later on, he realized it wasn’t Russian either.” The colonel, puzzled and concerned, thought it safest to pass the buck up the chain of command. And Major Marcel took off with the debris for Fort Worth.
“Strange symbols.” We’re brought back to the pink or purple or pinkish-purple markings that crop up again and again in descriptions of the debris, which Charles Moore tried–not altogether convincingly, in my opinion–to identify with a flowered tape used for the Project Mogul balloon experiments. I’ve already indicated why the “Mogul” explanation of the Roswell debris, for all its attractions, runs up against serious and possibly damning difficulties. But is it possible there were other balloons being launched in the Southwest in the summer of 1947, with features that at least temporarily suggested they weren’t ordinary weather balloons but something unknown and potentially sinister?
Until a weather officer at Fort Worth AAF named Irving Newton, summoned to General Ramey’s office that Tuesday evening, put all such fears at rest. The stuff spread out on the floor, Newton said, was indeed a weather balloon. Whether he spoke truthfully, I have no idea.
That, for now, is as close as I can come to “wrapping up Roswell.”
by David Halperin
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