The Roswell Incident
The Roswell Incident is the granddaddy of UFO lore, the event which propelled UFO fascination into the modern mainstream zeitgeist. Over 75 years later, questions are still outstanding and the incident is shrouded in mystery. We know something crashed in the New Mexico desert in the summer of 1947. But that is where the certainty ends.
Flying Disc News Sparks Attention
On July 7, 1947 Lt. Gen. Nathan F Twining – leader of Air Materiel Command at Wright Field in Dayton, OH and future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–was scheduled to perform a routine inspection of a Boeing plant in St. Louis, MO. Twining's plans were abruptly changed and he was quickly ushered onto a plane and redirected to Alamogordo, New Mexico. On the same day, U.S. Senator Carl Hatch (D-NM) would request an emergency meeting with President Harry Truman as Secret Service agents descended upon the New Mexico desert. An unscheduled flight took off from Wright Field, bringing senior US Army officers (including Maj. Gen Laurence Craigie and senior scientists to New Mexico, and Lt. Generals Curtis LeMay and Hoyt Vandenberg held emergency meetings at the Pentagon to review an "escalating 'flying disc' situation". Something was happening in the quiet town of Roswell, New Mexico, and it had the attention of the highest levels of American government and military establishments. The most prominent UFO event in history, Roswell is a complex, controversial wormhole unto itself. Multiple alleged crash sites, acknowledged government misdirection, purported sightings of alien corpses, posthumous affidavits by military officials ... Roswell has it all. It is very difficult to cut through the noise and the decades of intrigue to get at the facts of the case, but this much is clear: something most definitely crashed in the New Mexico desert in the summer of 1947, and the rapid response from the highest levels of civilian and military establishments suggest it was a very big deal.
The exact date of the crash is unconfirmed, but it most likely occurred in the late night or early morning of July 2nd-July 3rd, 1947. What we do know with a reasonable degree of certainty is that on July 3rd, rancher William "Mack" Brazel–foreman of the Foster Ranch approximately 75 miles northwest of Roswell–inspected the flock of sheep in his fields following the intense thunderstorms the prior evening and came across a substantial debris field on the property.
The following day–July 4th–Brazel returned to the site to further investigate and collect samples of the debris. Brazel, accompanied by several companions, was concerned over who would help him clean up the significant mess; he collected samples and brought some of the strange materials home with him. On July 5th, Brazel made his way to the town of Corona, NM to find a telephone and inform the ranch owner, JB Foster, of the incident. Foster asked Brazel to inform the local authorities, which Brazel did the following day.
Brazel Meets with Local Sheriff
On July 6th, Brazel brought samples of the materials to Sheriff George Wilcox in Roswell. Wilcox, excited by what he saw, was encouraged by local reporter Frank Joyce to contact officials at the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF). Upon contacting RAAF, Wilcox was put in touch with intelligence officer Major Jesse Marcel. Base commander Col. William Blanchard ordered Marcel and Captain. Sheridan Cavitt to accompany Brazel on the nearly three hour trip from Roswell to the site of the debris field. The trio arrived at the site around dusk and opted to begin their search the next morning.
July 7, 1947
July 7th would prove to be an extremely eventful date in the timeline of the Roswell incident. Daybreak saw the trio of Brazel, Marcel, and Cavitt head to the debris field. Brazel would depart to go about his business, leaving Marcel and Cavitt to spend the day collecting assorted debris and loading as much of it as they could fit into the trunk of Marcel's Buick and into Cavitt's Jeep.
The same morning, a second crash site–this one approximately 40 miles north of Roswell–was discovered by a small team of archaeologists from Texas Tech University performing field research under Prof. W. Curry Holden.
July 8, 1947At 2AM on July 8th, Marcel would return to his home in Roswell following his long day collecting debris with Cavitt. He was so excited by the materials he had collected that he would awaken his wife and 11 year old son in the middle of the night to show them his findings, laid out on his kitchen floor. Marcel spent several hours collecting himself before debriefing Col. Blanchard on the previous day's findings at 6AM. Blanchard immediately made orders to enact enhanced security measures around Foster Ranch. Later that morning, Col. Blanchard dictated a message to Lt. Walter Haut, communications director on base, stating that the RAAF had recovered a "flying disc". Haut proceeded to transcribe a press release stating the same, which was released to the Associated Press at 2:26PM. The story was immediately picked up by newspapers and radio broadcasters across the country, becoming headline news. By 10:00PM, however, ABC News began running reports that the flying disc story was erroneous and that the recovered wreckage was from a weather balloon. In their official accounting of the event in a 1994 document titled "The Roswell Report: Case Closed", the US Air Force acknowledged that the weather balloon story was a cover for the recovery of a top secret, high altitude train of balloons from a program called Project Mogul; Project Mogul utilized such balloon tech in an effort to sonically detect Soviet nuclear testing.
July 9, 1947
By the morning of July 9th, the mainstream press had reversed course on the prior day's headlines. The headlines on this morning all referred to Gen. Ramey's statements from July 8th suggesting the debris were from a downed weather balloon. Some researchers allege that as AM headlines were reversing course away from a flying disc hypothesis, materials from the crash sites were being put through a battery of tests at Wright Field.
Gen. Laurence Craigie of the Army Air Force's Research & Engineering Division–who had arrived two days earlier–flew from Roswell directly to Washington DC to debrief with his superior, Gen. Curtis LeMay, and President Truman on the ongoing activities at RAAF. Later in the day, New Mexico Senator Carl Hatch would also have an unscheduled private meeting with Truman. By the end of the day on July 9th, the majority of materials from both the debris field and the impact site had been collected, crated, and flown off base to destinations at Fort Worth or Wright Field.
By sundown on July 10th, the flurry of activity around RAAF had largely subsided. The media seemed satisfied with the weather balloon explanation and public interest in the story waned. In the following days, all participants in the cleanup and recovery were debriefed and given an oath of secrecy.
Public Interest Wanes
As the summer of 1947 transitioned into fall, the Roswell incident began to slide into obscurity. There were several related inquiries or additional investigations, but none garnered notable public attention. With few exceptions, the Roswell Incident faded from memory for the next 20+ years.
UFO skeptics have long promoted the USAF "official" explanation that a Project Mogul balloon crashed and was cleaned up by the Army, and that any reports of alien bodies were cases of civilians mistaking crash test dummies (or deceased pilots from other events) for extraterrestrial beings. There have been compelling interviews conducted with eyewitnesses, notably Sheridan Cavitt, who claimed the debris field was indeed from a balloon, and that nothing memorable was discovered. The New Mexico desert is one of the most active military testing sites in the country; the prospect of test craft/top secret balloons crashing and the military mobilizing to clean up the mess are likely, and could certainly be what happened at Roswell.
The Debate Continues
That said, many still believe that the Roswell Incident was likely a downed craft of extraterrestrial origin and that alien bodies may have indeed been recovered from the site. The number of witnesses–including those who spoke of the incident at the final stages of life–is too large to ignore. The mobilization, cleanup, and lockdown efforts were far greater than one would expect from something as mundane as a downed balloon. Government obfuscation of evidence and the lack of documents pertaining to the incident are major red flags, and there are sizable holes in the Project Mogul explanation. We will likely never get a better accounting of these events than what has already been publicly presented. Absent a major change of course related to governmental disclosure, Roswell will long remain shrouded in mystery.