Roswell: Case Not Closed Just Yet

by Bill Cassel

"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 flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. 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 Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters."

-- Press release from Roswell Army Air Force Base, issued on July 8, 1947

I feel a bit awkward writing about this, because I haven't completely made up my own mind about it yet. But I believe that all right-minded citizens owe it to themselves to take a long, hard look at the Roswell Incident and think about it carefully -- because if it is true, nothing else matters.

The Roswell Incident

No one disputes that something happened in the New Mexico desert in 1947. Rumors of flying saucers (then known mostly as "flying discs") were rampant in the U.S. at the time. Nine objects described as "pie pans" had been sighted over Mount Rainier, Washington on June 24, and dozens of separate sightings were reported in June and early July, particularly in Arizona and New Mexico. One newspaper offered a $3,000 reward to anyone who could provide definitive proof of a flying disc's existence.

It is not surprising, then, that when the press release quoted above was released from Roswell Army Air Force base on July 8, it caused quite a stir. It was picked up by the Associated Press and reported in the New York Times and other newspapers across the country and around the world. These stories reported that a New Mexico rancher, W.W. Brazel, had discovered wreckage on his property that he could not identify. The debris was identified as being of extraterrestrial origin by Major Jesse Marcel, head of intelligence at the Army Air Force base.

The accounts I have read differ on whether Roswell's public information officer, Lieutenant Walter Haut, issued the press release on his own initiative or on the orders of his superior, Colonel William Blanchard; but in either case, it apparently did not meet with the approval of higher authorities. By the next day denials had been issued and all copies of the original press release retrieved. It was now officially announced that the wreckage was in fact a downed weather balloon that had been misidentified by officers at Roswell. Photos were released showing officers in Fort Worth, Texas, where some of the wreckage had been transported, posing with tinfoil and balsa wood that was clearly of earthly origin.

For most people, that was the end of it; the whole thing was a big military goof-up. But for many of those close to the incident, the weather balloon story was unconvincing. As skeptics pressed their investigations over the years, witnesses began to surface who were willing to go on the record saying that the government was covering up the truth about Roswell.

The Witnesses

Probably the most significant witness was Major Jesse Marcel himself. After his retirement, no longer bound by oaths of secrecy, Marcel went public to dispute the official version of the events. Marcel was one of the first people to explore the site of the wreckage, and according to him, what he found there was certainly not a weather balloon. Instead it was a large field of debris -- far larger than any weather balloon -- consisting of materials that he could not identify. In an interview quoted in The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, Marcel says that one type of material resembled tinfoil, except that it was exceptionally strong, would not tear or burn, and if crumpled or folded would immediately resume its original shape. Another was beams that "looked something like balsa wood, and were of about the same weight, except that they were not wood at all. They were very hard, although flexible and would not burn." These beams had "some sort of hieroglyphics on them that nobody could decipher." A third type was "an unusual parchment-like substance" that was also covered with the "hieroglyphics" and also would not burn.

According to Marcel, this material was all gathered up as quickly as possible by a team from the base and flown to Fort Worth by Marcel himself. By the time he got to Fort Worth, however, the Air Force had decided that something needed to be done about the rampant public reports of a recovered flying disc. Marcel was ordered to pose for press photographers with debris that would be identified as a weather balloon. According to Marcel, however, the debris shown in the pictures was not the wreckage he found.

Marcel insisted in numerous interviews in the late 1970s that what he found resembled no earthly material, that the Air Force knew that perfectly well and had concocted the weather balloon story to cover it up. He was perhaps a little miffed at being scapegoated as the idiot who had mistaken sticks and tinfoil for the wreckage of an alien spacecraft. Major Marcel is unfortunately now deceased.

Another important witness is Bill Brazel, the son of the rancher on whose property the debris was found. (Brazel's father apparently had an unpleasant experience when he was taken into military custody briefly following the incident, and would never speak about it again. He died in 1963.) Also interviewed in The Roswell Incident, Brazel reveals that he found quite a bit of debris on the ranch that the Air Force had missed, which he describes in terms almost identical to Jesse Marcel's. In 1949, however, he happened to describe the material he had to some people in a bar in Roswell, and the next day an Air Force captain appeared to collect it. Being patriotically minded, Brazel gave the man everything he had.

Other witnesses who vouch for the reality of the flying disc include Lieutenant Walter Haut, the man who issued the Air Force press release (and now runs a UFO museum in Roswell) and far too many others to go into here. For further details I suggest that you pick up a copy of The Roswell Incident (Berkley Books, 1980). Another book, UFO Crash at Roswell by Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt (Avon Books, 1991), is of interest because it has the benefit of 11 more years of investigation building on the foundation of the earlier book, but is so poorly written and organized as to be almost unreadable.

Some of the accounts of the Roswell Incident speak of a "second site" found by the Air Force, where the shell of the saucer that the debris came from was supposedly found, along with two or three bodies of the craft's pilots. The bodies are described as being between three and a half and four feet tall, gray-skinned and hairless, thin with big heads and eyes. If this sounds familiar, it's probably because the descriptions of the Roswell aliens were used as the basis for the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If you believe that a UFO crashed in Roswell, then I guess you should have no problem believing that the government recovered a craft and alien beings, but for some reason when you start talking about bodies, it brings out somewhat more of the natural skepticism. So I prefer to consider the question of the truth of the crash independent of that of the existence of bodies. It is worth noting, however, that Frank Joyce of KGFL radio in Roswell, who interviewed W.W. Brazel twice in 1947, says that Brazel took him aside at one point and told him this: "Frank, you know how they talk of little green men? Well, they weren't green."

Since there is no extant physical evidence of anything extraterrestrial from Roswell, it really just comes down to who you believe, and that is conditioned by your general bent on matters of this kind. I personally tend to be suspicious of the government's truthfulness on controversial matters, so based on what I have read and heard, the accounts of Marcel, Brazel and the others involved sound much more convincing to me than the government's denials. But then again, I also believe that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone. I have no trouble picturing our government possessing incontrovertible proof of life on other planets and keeping it from us -- perhaps, in the minds of decision-makers, for our own good. The government's ability to cover up the truth about Roswell would only have been helped by the fact that almost all of those who had access to sensitive information were military personnel, and thus could simply have been ordered to keep quiet -- though, as the case of Jesse Marcel illustrates, such orders would get harder to enforce as the years passed. Even if some leaks did occur, however, as long as the public could be stonewalled long enough, the witnesses would begin to die off, as most of them have and the rest soon will.

The 1994 Air Force Report

Interest in the Roswell Incident has not died, however, and just this year led to another government attempt to close the Roswell case for good. The chain of events leading to the investigation began when New Mexico Representative Steven Schiff, at the behest of his constituents, requested a Defense Department briefing on the Roswell Incident. Defense informed Schiff that all documents pertaining to Roswell had been transferred to the National Archives. Archives officials, however, said that they had no such records. In a January 1994 Washington Post article, Schiff stated that "all the running around" led him to request an investigation by Congress' investigative branch, the General Accounting Office.

By the time the results of this investigation surfaced, as detailed in the September 18 New York Times, it had been taken over by the Air Force. The Air Force's report concluded that the Roswell wreckage was not from an alien spacecraft, nor an ordinary weather balloon as it had maintained for 47 years, but from something called "Project Mogul," a top-secret surveillance system designed to detect distant nuclear explosions. This system consisted of polyethylene balloons equipped with sensors and radar reflectors. The alert will already have noticed that this is really just a glorified weather balloon, and that the Air Force's new, improved explanation of the Roswell events will convince absolutely no one who was skeptical of the earlier explanation.

The Air Force report skirts the issue in so many ways that it scarcely merits scrutiny, but here are a few of the more obvious problems:

The Air Force tried to preempt the inevitable skepticism of its conclusions by portraying its critics as fringe cultists. "This won't lay it to rest," says Col. Albert C. Trakowski in the Times article. "The psychology is simple: people believe what they want to believe. In New Mexico, flying-saucerism has become a minor industry. There are whole museums dedicated to the presentation of outrageous fictions." To which I have to answer: Well, yes, when you give people lame and unconvincing answers to controversial questions, you shouldn't be surprised when they don't believe you. It always amazes me in this day and age when government types act surprised that we don't believe everything they tell us, as if Watergate, Vietnam, Iran-Contra, etc. had never happened. But I digress.

Almost as irritating as the smugness of people like Trakowski is the credulousness of the Times, which applies not an iota of suspicion or objectivity to its treatment of the Air Force report. For instance, the Times cites in support of the Project Mogul story the 1947 photographs of military personnel posing with what is clearly tinfoil and balsa wood, without giving even token consideration to the possibility that what you see in the pictures is not necessarily the debris in question. You can believe that there was a cover-up or not, but how can anyone cite as evidence photographs staged by those supposedly responsible for the cover-up in the first place? Or take the paragraph where it is quite earnestly stated that "Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Windall ordered [the report] to be as thorough as possible." As if that means anything? Gosh, I guess it would never occur to the military to ever lie to the public. Exactly how old are we here?

I guess I'm ranting now. Sorry, but it bothers me that the government and mainstream media want us to believe it's crazy to have an open mind, to even entertain the possibility that there may be more out there than we know about. Whether there is other life in the universe is one of the few great remaining questions, along with whether God exists and why Regis Philbin is famous. As I said earlier, I'm not 100% convinced that Roswell was the real thing, but I'm going to keep my eyes peeled. If the government wants me to stop caring about it, they're going to have to come up with a better story than the ones they've advanced thus far. Maybe someday they will. Or maybe someday we'll find out that our government really has had proof of extraterrestrial life for half a century and has kept it from us. And if that happens, a lot of people are going to be very, very angry.

Copyright © 1995 Bill Cassel

Enterzone Copyright © 1995

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