Will Hart

UFOs: Getting Serious

Just after the onset of World War II, an unidentified flying object hovered over the city of Los Angeles. The newsworthy event was reported in the Los Angeles Times. The country was at war and startled residents thought the object was some kind of secret Japanese aircraft. The police, air raid wardens and the military swung into action as the following excerpt from the February 26, 1942 issue of the Times reveals:

Sleepy householders awoke to the dull thud of explosions... "Thunder? Can't be!" Then: "Air Raid! Come here quick! Look over there...those searchlights. They've got something...they are blasting in with anti-aircraft!" Father, mother, children all gathered on the front porch, congregated in small clusters in the blacked out streets -- against orders. Babies cried, dogs barked, doors slammed. But the object in the sky slowly moved on, caught in the center of the lights like the hub of a bicycle wheel surrounded by gleaming spokes.
[Chilly Throng Watches Shells Bursting in Sky, Marvin Miles]

The antiaircraft artillerymen scored a number of "direct hits" but they had no effect on the object. However, falling debris from exploded bombshells killed at least six civilians on the ground. The UFO was not a secret Japanese aircraft, nor was it a blimp. It did not return fire and after a half-hour of hovering over west Los Angeles it cruised silently away. Since it was wartime and there was no history of unidentified flying objects to turn to, and no knowledgeable investigators to probe into the event, it was quickly forgotten.

To this day, outside of a handful of UFO buffs, 'the battle over LA' remains largely unknown. Like so many other compelling cases it gathers dust among the stacks of UFO files that conceal a tightly guarded mystery that has continued to proliferate through the intervening decades. Though the Kenneth Arnold sighting in Washington or the Roswell Incident are often thought of as the inaugural events of the modern UFO era; the mass sighting and violent military response over the night skies of LA preceded them by five years.

The controversy that has swirled around the Roswell Incident has often obscured the plain facts. The military issued the press release that flatly stated they had recovered a crashed disc. The headline in the local paper read, "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region" (Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1947). Dozens of credible, military and civilian witnesses have provided eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence giving credence to the initial press release during repeated investigations.

Several relevant facts are seldom mentioned when the Roswell case is discussed: 1) The 509th Bomb Group was the only atomic bomb squadron in the world and their base was not far from the White Sands Testing Grounds, the site of the first A-bomb test. 2) Two witnesses reported observing a glowing object race by at about 1,500-foot altitude the night that the military said that the flying saucer hit the ground. According to the article cited above,

Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmot apparently were the only persons in Roswell who have seen what they thought was a flying disk.

They were sitting on their porch at 105 South Penn. last Wednesday night at about ten minutes before ten o'clock when a large glowing object zoomed out of the sky from the southeast, going in a northwesterly direction at a high rate of speedů

In appearance it looked oval in shape like two inverted saucers faced mouth to mouth or like two old fashioned wash bowls placed together in the same fashion. The entire body glowed as though lights were showing through from inside, though not like it would be if a light were merely underneath.

The reporter noted that Mr. Wilmot was a respected, upstanding citizen and that he had given his report BEFORE the military press release was made public. Of course, anyone paying the least bit of attention to this case knows that the government retracted the original story in spite of the eyewitness testimony and supporting evidence. They said that the disc was, in fact, a weather balloon.

Even though the government tried to kill the UFO story, the late 1940s and early 1950s erupted with repeated flaps. In 1947, UFOs appeared over American skies increasing to the point that people grew alarmed. Some of the incidents had serious national security implications. The air space over the Oak Ridge Nuclear Facility was repeatedly violated. Oak Ridge was home to the most sophisticated technology in the world and the facility was highly classified, needless to say, the air space surrounding it was a strict no-fly zone.

Despite vigilant military supervision Army Intelligence and the FBI monitored dozens of intrusions over Oak Ridge well into the 1950s. Similar violations occurred over important research labs and nuclear facilities, at Los Alamos (the home of the Manhattan Project), Hanford, and many military bases. All of this was tightly restricted information at the time. The American public knew nothing about these "sensitive" cases as they occurred. The data has only surfaced because of the Freedom of Information Act. However, the number of public sightings and reports mounted and public pressure was applied prompting the government to launch several probes into the matter.

Project Sign was the first official investigation of the UFO phenomenon. The Technical Intelligence Division of the Air Material Command (AMC) at Wright Field (later Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in Dayton, Ohio, was given control of the project and began its work on January 23, 1948. The conclusions of this military probe were largely negative. The team found that nearly all sightings could be explained by mass hysteria, hoax, hallucination or misinterpretation of natural objects.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that this conclusion was arrived at after General Hoyt Vandenburg had deleted much more positive findings out of the preliminary report, which he sent back to the team to revise. In retrospect, what other conclusions could be expected from the Pentagon given the position they had taken on the Roswell case? In spite of the negative Sign report, the UFO phenomenon kept coming back to life.

Trying to assuage mounting public anxiety the military ordered another investigation, the next one was named Project GRUDGE. It produced the same conclusions that its predecessor had arrived at. Even though UFOs had been officially declared as nothing more than phantasms or cases of mistaken identity they kept on coming and coming. After a huge flap in 1952, the public clamored for another investigation. By this point the CIA had its oars in the water and President Truman wanted to get the UFO matter off his desk. Out of this maelstrom came the Robertson Panel and Project Blue Book.

Examples of credible early cases:

Early in the 1952 UFO wave two discs approached and paced a B-36 bomber in the vicinity of Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona. On May 1, 1952, Major Rudy Pestalozzi, a base intelligence officer, along with an airman, looked up as a B-36 flew overhead and saw two shiny discs overtake the bomber, slow to its speed and position themselves alongside.

On the evening of November 23, 1953, Lt. Felix E. Moncla. Jr., a veteran at age 26, was the pilot of a Northrup F-89C "Scorpion" jet interceptor scrambled into the air after a report from Kinross Air Force Base near Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, alerted the 433rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Truax Field in Madison, Wisconsin to an intrusion by an object recorded on the radar screen. The Scorpion was dispatched to investigate the mysterious radar "blip." Second Lt. Robert L. Wilson, 22, flew with Moncla acting as the flight radar observer.

The pair chased the UFO as the radar operator at the base monitored the two blips. The ground radar operator watched in horror as the pilot caught up with the unidentified craft and the two blips merged. Search and rescue parties were dispatched to comb the area but no remains of the airmen or their jet were ever found.

In 1964, patrolman Lonnie Zamora had a close encounter in broad daylight near Soccoro, New Mexico. As he approached what he thought was an overturned truck he was startled to see two very small figures near an object that he next thought was some kind of experimental military aircraft. The figures were dressed in overalls, when they looked at him he realized they were not human and that the craft was not of secret U.S. military design. When the UFO departed Zamora found the impressions of the craft's landing gear embedded into the ground.

As the years rolled by reports poured in from airline pilots, highway patrolmen, county sheriffs and military personnel including a helicopter crew involved in a close encounter. Average citizens also continued to report seeing strange, luminous objects performing aerial feats over the skies of America. The Blue Book team analyzed thousands of cases conducting interviews with many highly credible witnesses. Nevertheless, the team eventually concluded that UFOs posed no threat to national security. No surprise that they remained consistent with previous results since a departure would have been embarrassing.

Dr. J. Allen Hynek was a consultant to the Air Force in astronomy for over two decades, from 1948 to 1969, having been involved in Projects Sign and Blue Book. No one had more first hand contact with the data than Hynek, who had been a firm skeptic in 1948. In an interview conducted before his death in 1984, he summed up his experience with the various 'official' investigations.

"They were under instruction from the Pentagon, following the Robertson Panel of 1953, that the whole subject had to be debunked, period, no question about it. That was the prevailing attitude. The panel was convened by the CIA, and I sat in on it, but I was not asked to sign the resolution. Had I been asked, I would not have signed it, because they took a completely negative attitude about everything."

After decades of scientifically studying the phenomenon, the astronomer changed his attitude. Two things impacted him: 1) the military's unscientific bias and desire to explain every case in terms of mistaken identity and/or natural phenomena and 2) The high caliber of many witnesses. As a result of this change Hynek formed a post-Blue Book group (CUFOS), still in existence, to conduct independent research.

In 1982, the longest and most intense UFO flap began. Thousands of residents of the Hudson Valley would eventually report seeing a V-shaped UFO by 1989 when the flap ceased. The case was virtually ignored by the mass media and federal law enforcement officials. Hynek became an active investigator into the Hudson Valley case until his untimely demise. His final essay contained scathing comments about the failure of American institutions to uphold their positions of public trust:

"It would appear that we really have TWO astounding stories, rather than just one... different but related... and equally incomprehensible: the story of the low-flying luminous Boomerang (in itself which could rank high in the annals of science fiction... if it were science fiction!) and the second, a totally unaccountable dereliction of duty (and there seems to be no other word for it), a complete indifference to accountability."

Nothing has changed since the astronomer penned these words 20 years ago. UFOs continue to be seen, people report being abducted, photos and video footage have been recorded, and the French and Canadian governments are certain that the Pentagon is hiding a deep, dark secret. Though it has been buried over and over again, the phenomenon will not die! Is it not high time by now to get serious about uncovering the truth?

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