Private aviator Kenneth Arnold was on a routine flight between Chehalis, Washington and Yakima, Washington on June 24th, 1947 when he decided to take a detour to look for a downed transport plane in the mountains. He didn’t find the missing plane, but he found something far more interesting. As he described it, nine strange crescent shaped objects came “skipping like saucers across the water” over the peaks of the Cascade Mountains. Arnold’s colorful description would provide others a way to describe similar sightings in the weeks and months ahead. He had unwittingly coined the term “flying saucer”.
Over the course of the next two weeks numerous sightings were reported across the United States. The sightings uniformly reported saucer-shaped craft moving at high rates of speed with acceleration and maneuverability beyond current technical capabilities. Alarmed, the Pentagon tried, without success, to intercept what they rather prosaically referred to as unidentified flying objects (UFO’s).
Then on July 2nd Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Wilmot of Roswell, New Mexico saw what they described as “an oval-shaped object like two inverted saucers faced mouth-to-mouth” flying over their house. The object was moving at a high rate of speed and heading northwest in the direction of an electrical storm over the high desert. Shortly thereafter, multiple witnesses, including two nuns at St. Mary’s Hospital in Roswell saw a flaming object arc downward out of the sky. A moment later, ranchers at Foster Ranch ninety miles northwest of Roswell heard a tremendous thunder clap.
The legend of Roswell was born.
A Stunning Admission
Three quarters of a century later in 2021 the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) released its report to Congress. The task force established by the Pentagon to look into the possibility of UFO’s had come to a stunning conclusion. For the first time in its long history the Pentagon was admitting to something it had been trying to suppress since Kenneth Arnold saw flying saucers over the Cascade Mountains in 1947. UFO’s were real, and extraterrestrials could be behind them. And the Pentagon wasn’t the only one. NASA got into the act, saying it wanted to investigate UFO’s more thoroughly.
UFO researchers and enthusiasts, collectively known as ufologists, might have had cause to rejoice, but the Pentagon’s admission was not exactly the smoking gun they had been hoping for. UFO sightings, as intriguing as they are, cannot be accepted as proof of life on other planets. Too many other explanations from advanced experimental aircraft to collective hallucinations can be offered as alternatives. Indeed, the report by the UAPTF does not rule out the possibility that the UFO’s could be technologies deployed by foreign adversaries.
The Gold Standard of UFO Encounters
That’s why what happened near Roswell, New Mexico in July of 1947 remains the gold standard of UFO encounters. To this day the crash of an alien spacecraft promises the best chance of recovering physical evidence of extraterrestrial contact and proof positive that we are not alone in the universe. And if the behavior of the US military surrounding what happened in Roswell is any indication, it points to something earthshaking.
No one disputes that something crashed in the New Mexico desert in July of 1947. The first official reports out of the crash site declared unequivocally that a flying saucer had been found, but then within twenty-four hours the military changed its story. The Air Force declared that the downed aircraft was nothing more than an experimental weather balloon. At the same time the military encircled the crash site with armed guards and established a security cordon around the outer perimeter with riflemen posted on the hills. But the cat was already out of the bag.
Like Nothing They Had Ever Seen Before
Five days earlier, on July 3rd, 1947, the morning after the ranchers at Foster Ranch had heard what sounded like an explosion in the sky, ranch foreman William “Mack” Brazel was inspecting an outlying pasture when he came across a deep gouge in the earth and strange wreckage from what looked to be an alien spacecraft. He picked up some of the wreckage and stored it in a nearby livestock shed. The next day he rode out to the site with five others to collect debris. Two-and-a-half miles from the gouge in the earth they came upon a pair of dead bodies. Whether or not the bodies could be classified as human was a matter for debate. Brazel then called his boss J.B. Foster in Texas to report what they had found. Foster instructed him to report it to the authorities.
By this time, however, word had gotten out about the crash of an alien spacecraft on Foster Ranch and several locals had already combed over the site picking up souvenirs. That evening at Wade’s Bar in Corona they passed around pieces of what they had found.
The material was like nothing they had ever seen before. It was extremely thin and lightweight and the color of dull aluminum. When it was crumpled up in the hand and placed on a flat surface, it would unravel and return to its original smooth, pristine condition without any sign of a crease or fold. The metal could not be dented or destroyed. It could not be burned. Later, researchers would refer to it as “memory metal”, something otherworldy. Within a few weeks all those who possessed a piece of it would have it no more. The military would see to that.
As soon as Mack Brazel reported his findings to the authorities, the military swept into overdrive inspecting the site and locking it down. They took Brazel into custody and aggressively “debriefed” him, and then they compelled army intelligence officer Major Jesse Marcel to conduct a news conference in which he posed with the wreckage of a weather balloon and claimed it was the debris found at the site. At the same time real pieces of wreckage were still out there in the community, and people were talking about them. This had to stop.
The military launched a campaign of intimidation. Witnesses were silenced with death threats. Wreckage was surrendered under duress. The military must have done a pretty thorough job of sewing things up because no fragment of the wreckage has ever turned up in spite of years of efforts by independent researchers to find something, anything, to prove that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert near Roswell in 1947.
Okay. Here’s where the rational skeptic will point out that the lack of evidence speaks for itself. Without physical proof nothing exists to confirm contact with an otherworldly presence. But if there was nothing to see on Foster Ranch, why was the military so vehement about locking the site down and keeping outsiders from getting near it? And why are they still so guarded today, seventy-five years later?
Outer Limits Off Limits
In 2018 the current owners of Foster Ranch announced they would be opening it up for tours. That never happened, and it’s no surprise. For more than sixty years the U.S. military has made every effort to keep the crash site a secret. Until recently if you attempted to find it you would be confronted by men in army fatigues in jeeps who would escort you out of the area.
The crash site is located in a remote area of desert amidst flat scrubland interspersed with low rolling hills. Short buffalo grass covers the area. In 2002 UFO researchers exploring the site with the permission of the ranch owners were surprised one morning to find that nails had been scattered over the area by a helicopter during the night in an obvious attempt to thwart the use of metal detectors. Whatever happened on Foster Ranch in July of 1947 it was unsettling enough to warrant an effort of this magnitude to obscure it, even sixty years later. It was certainly not a crashed weather balloon.
Confessions of a Mortician
Reports of alien bodies found at the site have continued to intrigue ufologists for years. The story blew up in 1989 when mortician Glenn Dennis called a hotline after the airing of an episode of Unsolved Mysteries to confirm what the show had alleged, that the bodies of dead aliens had been autopsied at Roswell Army Airfield when Dennis was a mortician there in 1947. This seemed to confirm earlier eyewitness accounts of civilians who had gotten a look at the bodies at the crash site before the military swept in and locked it down.
It was beginning to look like the ufologists were on the verge of something big. But then it was revealed that Glenn Dennis’s story was laced with inconsistencies and falsehoods, enough to damage his credibility—and it didn’t help that he was soon profiting from his association with what had come to be called the Roswell Incident.
“I Think There Was a Giant Cover Up”
Two years after making his extraordinary claim about alien bodies, Glenn Dennis founded The International UFO Museum and Research Center in downtown Roswell. He founded it along with Walter Haut, the former public relations officer at Roswell Army Air Base in 1947. It was Haut who had issued the initial press release announcing a flying saucer had crashed, the one that was quickly discredited and dismissed in favor of the weather balloon story.
Along with Glenn Dennis, Walter Haut was directly involved in the Roswell Incident and was willing to speak up about it, in spite of alleged death threats by the military. In 1989 he stated unequivocally for the record, “I think there was a giant cover-up on this thing.” Later, in 1993 he signed an affidavit stating that none of the principal people at the base in 1947 believed it was a weather balloon. Then in 2000 he went on the record saying he had personally seen parts of the alien spacecraft and the bodies of the extraterrestrials. But by then he was also profiting from the museum.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center
The International UFO Museum and Research Center is housed in a former movie theater in downtown Roswell. It tells the story of the Roswell Incident and subsequent cover up through exhibits, films, dioramas and automatronic figures. It’s not exactly what you would call objective. It has a narrative it wants to promote, and it’s a little chintzy, yes. But it’s also kind of fascinating.
What strikes one right away are the number of individuals with direct involvement in the incident who eventually confessed their complicity in a cover up. General Roger Ramey, the architect of the weather balloon diversion, was overheard telling a crewman on a B-29, “It was the biggest lie I ever had to tell.” And that the real wreckage was “Out of this world.”
In 1990 General Ramey’s former Chief of Staff, Colonel Thomas J. Dubose, confessed, “It was a hoax—the balloon part of it.”
And a few years later in 1997, Major Jesse Marcel, the man who posed with the wreckage of the weather balloon, disavowed the weather balloon story and told an interviewer for Time Magazine that he believed the object that crashed in the New Mexico desert had extraterrestrial origins.
Along with Glenn Dennis and Roger Haut, that’s at least five people with direct involvement who eventually admitted to being part of a cover up, three of whom explicitly stated that what they saw at Roswell Army Air Base in 1947 appeared to be not of this planet.
The Enduring Legend of the Roswell Incident
In addition to those with direct involvement, others with only second hand involvement have come forward. Among them was Marcel’s son, Jesse Marcel Jr., who claimed his father brought home some of the crash debris in 1947 and showed it to him when he was ten-years-old. “It was not of this Earth,” Marcel Jr. reported.
And Julie Rees, the daughter of Colonel Doyle Rees, a former high ranking officer of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), reported that her father steadfastly refused to talk about the crash until just before his death in 1996 when he turned to her and said, “UFO’s. They’re real, you know. I saw the bodies.”
And then there were the folks at Wade’s Bar in Corona in 1947 who passed around the memory metal and marveled over it, before the military confiscated it. Plenty of people knew the truth, and over the years, as the threat of being killed for speaking out waned, the stories began to seep out, so many that Roswell eventually became part of our collective national lore, spawning two TV shows, a slew of movies, and countless books.
Today, the government seems to be testing the possibility of revealing the truth about Roswell. The UAPTF report could be seen as a tentative first step. Admitting the existence of UFO’s and the possibility of extraterrestrials is an astounding shift in messaging from the government. But if fear of a global panic is what has been holding them back, it appears they have little to worry about. The report was met with a collective yawn. Most people have long ago made up their minds about UFO’s and aliens.
As of 2021, fifty-one percent of Americans believe the existence of UFO’s are evidence of extraterrestrial life. Sixty-five percent say life exists on other planets. Most tellingly, eighty percent of Americans think the government is hiding knowledge of extraterrestrial life. If covering up Roswell was meant to discourage people from believing in little green men, it failed. If it was meant to bolster Americans’ trust in their government, it failed even worse.
In 1958, nine years after the Roswell Incident, seventy-five percent of Americans trusted their government to be truthful with them. Today only twenty percent do. Whether revealing the truth about Roswell will help restore some of that lost trust or only confirm people in their cynicism remains to be seen, but in the seventy-five years since it happened, the government has learned one thing about covering things up. A sensational story suppressed is like memory metal. You can crumple it up and throw it away, but, as soon as you turn your back, it will unravel and return to its original pristine condition. It’s indestructible, and it goes on and on.
Previous Stop on the Odyssey: Big Bend National Park
Next Stop on the Odyssey: Dallas, TX
My American Odyssey Route Map
Schmidt, Donald R. Cover up at Roswell: Exposing the 70-Year Conspiracy to Suppress the Truth, The Career Press, 2017
Weisberger, Mindy. “Army officer’s secret journal could offer new clues about the UFO crash in Roswell in 1947,” Live Science, 11 December 2020, Website
“Poll: U.S. hiding knowledge of aliens,” CNN interactive, 15 June 1997, Website
Crashed UFO from X-Files, DenofGeek
UFO’s over Washington DC, International UFO Museum
UAPTF image, Department of Defense
NASA chief administrator Bill Nelson, NPR
Roswell population sign, Malcolm Logan
Roswell mural, Malcolm Logan
William “Mack” Brazel, International UFO Museum
Structure on Hines Ranch where crash debris was stored, John Dilmore for Roswell Daily Record
Marcel with weather balloon wreckage, International UFO Museum
Foster Ranch, International UFO Museum
Glenn Dennis, International UFO Museum
Autopsy of an alien body, Malcolm Logan
Walter Haupt, International UFO Museum
International UFO Museum and Research Center, Malcolm Logan
A selfie with the aliens, Malcolm Logan
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” poster, International UFO Museum
Roswell Dunkin’ Donuts, Malcolm Logan
“Attention Earth People,” Daily Breeze