On this date, around 10:00 PM in Roswell, New Mexico, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmot saw an unidentified flying object (UFO). They reported its appearance as “two inverted saucers faced mouth to mouth,” moving at a high rate of speed over their house. This marked the beginning of one of the most publicized and controversial of sightings of UFOs, now called the “Roswell UFO Incident”. There have been more books written on the events that allegedly took place around Roswell in 1947 than on any other single UFO sighting.
It was but the latest in a series of UFO sightings that began on June 25, 1947 when a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing several objects while flying near Mt Rainier, Washington. His descriptions of the objects that flew like “geese” and moving “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water” became the term “Flying Saucers”, and thus the age of the UFO was born. Media publicity about Arnold’s report gave birth to a rash of sightings that kept the papers and the public fascinated throughout that summer… and indeed, to this day.
On the morning of July 7, 1947 (according to the Roswell Daily Record, Roswell Morning Dispatch, and Fort Worth Star Telegram), a rancher named William “Mac” Brazel drove the 75 miles from his home to Roswell and reported to the local sheriff, George Wilcox, that he might have recovered the remains of “one of them flying saucers.” Wilcox, according to various accounts, then contacted military authorities at nearby Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF), where Major Jesse Marcel was assigned to investigate. Marcel and a Counter-Intelligence Corps agent, Sheridan Cavitt, drove out to the Foster ranch where Brazel worked as the outfit’s foreman and where he had made the discovery.
Marcel and Cavitt collected wreckage from the crash site in the early evening of July 7. By 8:30 PM or so, they were inside Brazel’s house looking at the debris and trying to determine what it actually was. After filling Cavitt’s vehicle with wreckage, Marcel told Cavitt to go back to the base and he would collect more wreckage, and they would meet later back at RAAF. Marcel filled his vehicle with wreckage.
On the way back to the airfield, Marcel stopped off at home at around 2:00 AM (July 8) to show his wife, Viaud, and son, Jesse Jr., the strange material he had found. Both his wife and son examined the debris Jesse Sr. had brought home. Jesse Jr. later recalled there were pink/purple/lavender symbols along the center sections of some of the small metallic “I” beams among the debris.
Marcel arrived at RAAF early in the morning of July 8th and at 9:00 AM reported to his commanding officer, Col. William H. Blanchard. Blanchard contacted General Roger M. Ramey of the Eighth Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ramey ordered the wreckage be flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field. By mid-afternoon, the plane was on its way to Fort Worth with Jesse Marcel Sr. on board.
Around 9:30 AM on July 8, 1947, Blanchard ordered press information officer Walter Haut to compose (who actually wrote it is questionable) a press release on the recovery of a flying disc. No copy of the original press release exists today, but the following is generally thought to be the closest to the original:
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 Maj. 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 by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.
Haut went into town to deliver his press release to the radio stations and newspapers. His first was at station KGFL, where he gave the release to Frank Joyce.
At noon of the same day, the information was put on the AP wire. The only newspapers that carried the initial flying saucer version of the story were evening papers from the Midwest to the West, including the Chicago Daily News, the Los Angeles Herald Express, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Roswell Daily Record. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune were morning papers and carried only the weather-balloon version of the story the next morning.
This is the now famous story that was published on Tuesday, July 8, in the Roswell Daily Record:
RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region
No Details of Flying Disk Are Revealed
Roswell Hardware Man and Wife Report Disk Seen
The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.
According to information released by the department, over authority of Maj. J. A. Marcel, intelligence officer, the disk was recovered on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity, after an unidentified rancher had notified Sheriff Geo. Wilcox, here, that he had found the instrument on his premises.
Major Marcel and a detail from his department went to the ranch and recovered the disk, it was stated.
After the intelligence officer here had inspected the instrument it was flown to “higher headquarters.”
The intelligence office stated that no details of the saucer’s construction or its appearance had been revealed.
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 [July 2] at about 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 speed.
Wilmot called Mrs. Wilmot’s attention to it and both ran down into the yard to watch. It was in sight less then a minute, perhaps 40 or 50 seconds, Wilmot estimated.
Wilmot said that it appeared to him to be about 1,500 feet high and going fast. He estimated between 400 and 500 miles per hour.
In appearance it looked oval in shape like two inverted saucers, faced mouth to mouth, or like two old type washbowls placed together in the same fashion. The entire body glowed as though light were showing through from inside, though not like it would be if a light were merely underneath.
From where he stood Wilmot said that the object looked to be about 5 feet in size, and making allowance for the distance it was from town he figured that it must have been 15 to 20 feet in diameter, though this was just a guess.
Wilmot said that he heard no sound but that Mrs. Wilmot said she heard a swishing sound for a very short time.
The object came into view from the southeast and disappeared over the treetops in the general vicinity of six-mile hill.
Wilmot, who is one of the most respected and reliable citizens in town, kept the story to himself hoping that someone else would come out and tell about having seen one, but finally today decided that he would go ahead and tell about it. The announcement that the RAAF was in possession of one came only a few minutes after he had decided to release the details of what he had seen.
Meanwhile, Marcel’s plane arrived at Fort Worth Army Air Field sometime in the early evening on July 8. Waiting for the plane was General Ramey and his chief of staff, Colonel Thomas Dubose. Dubose recalled meeting the plane and taking the debris to General Ramey’s office.
In a press conference at Ramey’s office around 5:30 PM (July 8), several news photographs were taken of the debris from the crash site by reporter J. Bond Johnson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and others. After the photographs were taken, General Ramey made an announcement that what was being presented as a “crashed disc” was actually the crushed remains of a ray wind [sic, rawin] target used to determine the direction and velocity of winds at high altitudes. The duty weather officer Irving Newton was present and concurred, as he later testified:
I was the only weather forecaster on duty…I received a call from some one in General Ramey’s office by a Lt. Col. or Col. who told me that some one had found a flying saucer in New Mexico and they had it in the General’s office…the General suspicioned that it might be meteorological equipment or something of that nature and wanted it examined by qualified meteorological personnel…as soon as I saw it, I giggled and asked if that was the flying saucer. I was told it was… I was convinced at the time that this was a balloon with a RAWIN target and remain convinced… (HQ USAF Attachment 30)
Marcel was probably a bit embarrassed at this point and could only stand by as the press took the photographs. Another news release was issued, this time from the Fort Worth base, describing the object as being a weather balloon.
On Wednesday, July 9, two articles about the incident were published on the first page of the Roswell Daily Record. The first story follows:
Gen. Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer
Ramey Says Excitement is Not Justified
General Ramey Says Disk is Weather Balloon
Fort Worth, Texas, July 9 (AP) — An examination by the army revealed last night that mysterious objects found on a lonely New Mexico ranch was a harmless high-altitude weather balloon — not a grounded flying disk. Excitement was high until Brig. Gen. Roger M. Ramey, commander of the Eighth air forces with headquarters here cleared up the mystery.
The bundle of tinfoil, broken wood beams and rubber remnants of a balloon were sent here yesterday by army air transport in the wake of reports that it was a flying disk.
But the general said the objects were the crushed remains of a ray wind [sic, Rawin] target used to determine the direction and velocity of winds at high altitudes.
Warrant Officer Irving Newton, forecaster at the army air forces weather station here said, “we use them because they go much higher than the eye can see.”
The weather balloon was found several days ago near the center of New Mexico by Rancher W. W. Brazel. He said he didn’t think much about it until he went into Corona, N. M., last Saturday and heard the flying disk reports.
He returned to his ranch, 85 miles northwest of Roswell, and recovered the wreckage of the balloon, which he had placed under some brush.
Then Brazel hurried back to Roswell, where he reported his find to the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff called the Roswell air field and Maj. Jesse A. Marcel, 509th bomb group intelligence officer was assigned to the case.
Col. William H. Blanchard, commanding officer of the bomb group, reported the find to General Ramey and the object was flown immediately to the army air field here.
Ramey went on the air here last night to announce the New Mexico discovery was not a flying disk.
Newton said that when rigged up, the instrument “looks like a six-pointed star, is silvery in appearance and rises in the air like a kite.”
In Roswell, the discovery set off a flurry of excitement.
Sheriff George Wilcox’s telephone lines were jammed. Three calls came from England, one of them from The London Daily Mail, he said.
A public relations officer here said the balloon was in his office “and it’ll probably stay right there.”
Newton, who made the examination, said some 80 weather stations in the U.S. were using that type of balloon and that it could have come from any of them.
He said he had sent up identical balloons during the invasion of Okinawa to determine ballistics information for heavy guns.
The second story in the Roswell Daily Record on July 9, 1947 was:
Harassed Rancher Who Located ‘Saucer’ Sorry He Told About It
W. W. Brazel, 48, Lincoln county rancher living 30 miles south of Corona, today told his story of finding what the army at first described as a flying disk, but the publicity which attended his find caused him to add that if he ever found anything else short of a bomb, he sure wasn’t going to say anything about it.
Brazel was brought here late yesterday by W. E. Whitmore, of radio station KGFL, had his picture taken and gave an interview to the Record and Jason Kellahin, sent here from the Albuquerque bureau of the Associated Press to cover the story. The picture he posed for was sent out over AP telephoto wire sending machine specially set up in the Record office by R. D. Adair, AP wire chief sent here from Albuquerque for the sole purpose of getting out his picture and that of sheriff George Wilcox, to whom Brazel originally gave the information of his find.
Brazel related that on June 14 he and an 8-year old son, Vernon, were about 7 or 8 miles from the ranch house of the J. B. Foster ranch, which he operates, when they came upon a large area of bright wreckage made up on rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks.
At the time Brazel was in a hurry to get his round made and he did not pay much attention to it. But he did remark about what he had seen and on July 4 he, his wife, Vernon and a daughter, Betty, age 14, went back to the spot and gathered up quite a bit of the debris.
The next day he first heard about the flying disks, and he wondered if what he had found might be the remnants of one of these.
Monday he came to town to sell some wool and while here he went to see sheriff George Wilcox and “whispered kinda confidential like” that he might have found a flying disk.
Wilcox got in touch with the Roswell Army Air Field and Maj. Jesse A. Marcel and a man in plain clothes accompanied him home, where they picked up the rest of the pieces of the “disk” and went to his home to try to reconstruct it.
According to Brazel they simply could not reconstruct it at all. They tried to make a kite out of it, but could not do that and could not find any way to put it back together so that it would fit.
Then Major Marcel brought it to Roswell and that was the last he heard of it until the story broke that he had found a flying disk.
Brazel said that he did not see it fall from the sky and did not see it before it was torn up, so he did not know the size or shape it might have been, but he thought it might have been about as large as a table top. The balloon which held it up, if that was how it worked, must have been about 12 feet long, he felt, measuring the distance by the size of the room in which he sat. The rubber was smoky gray in color and scattered over an area about 200 yards in diameter.
When the debris was gathered up the tinfoil, paper, tape, and sticks made a bundle about three feet long and 7 or 8 inches thick, while the rubber made a bundle about 18 or 20 inches long and about 8 inches thick. In all, he estimated, the entire lot would have weighed maybe five pounds.
There was no sign of any metal in the area which might have been used for an engine and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil.
There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction.
No strings or wire were to be found but there were some eyelets in the paper to indicate that some sort of attachment may have been used.
Brazel said that he had previously found two weather observation balloons on the ranch, but that what he found this time did not in any way resemble either of these.
“I am sure that what I found was not any weather observation balloon,” he said. “But if I find anything else besides a bomb they are going to have a hard time getting me to say anything about it.”
In 1978, Major Jesse Marcel voiced his suspicion that the debris recovered at Roswell was “not of this world.” The wreckage was switched, according to him, for the weather balloon that appeared in the press photos. The debris “was not a weather balloon. Nor was it an airplane or a missile.” Consequently, Roswell morphed from being an almost forgotten incident to the most famous UFO mystery of all time. Witness accounts began to surface of outer space aircraft and alien autopsies.
The truth about Roswell may be “out there”, but it has been shrouded by faulty and conflicting memories, hoaxes…and sometimes, deliberate lies. To be considered part of a valid explanation, any and all evidence presented must be able to withstand critical analysis. There is much that cannot.
The best explanation to date remains the 1994/95 Air Force report and Project Mogul. For years, the Air Force had dodged the whole Roswell UFO Incident simply because it was considered a waste of time and not in their interest. In 1994, as a result of an inquiry by New Mexico Congressman Steven Schiff, the Air Force was forced to research the event. In early 1995, the US Air Force released its lengthy report called The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert. It identified the Roswell debris as remnants of a long-range, highly secret, balloon-borne low-frequency acoustic detection system called “Project Mogul” — an attempt to sense Soviet nuclear weapon explosions at tropopause altitudes. Among overwhelming evidence was the fact that the radar targets carried by the balloons were partly manufactured by novelty and toy companies in New York, whose inventory of decorative icons seems to have been remembered many years later as alien hieroglyphics (q.v., “pink/purple/lavender symbols”) on the wreckage.
- Benson Saler, Charles A. Ziegler, and Charles B. Moore. UFO Crash at Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth. (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).
- HQ USAF. The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert. (Washington D.C.: US Government, 1995).
- Carl Sagan. The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. (New York, NY: Random House, 1995), pp. 81-96.