Strange as it was, the Air Force rebuttal of the inversion theory was not the only enigma I'd found. In the past two months there had been several contradictory incidents.
The first was the Air Force reaction to a new "little men" report, started by Joseph Rohrer, a Pueblo radio executive. Ordinarily the story might have been laughed off. But Rohrer was a respected citizen, president of the Pike's Peak Broadcasting Company, and he insisted he was telling the truth. His sober account, given in a chamber of commerce talk, was headlined by the Pueblo Chieftan, reprinted in other papers, and broadcast by several Western radio stations.
According to Rohrer, seven flying discs had fallen into the government's hands. Three of them, he said, had been forced down in Montana. Most remarkable of all, one saucer crewman—a man about three feet tall—had survived when his disc crashed. For two years he had been kept alive in incubator-type quarters at an isolated spot in California. At first, attempts to communicate with him had failed. But gradually he had been educated by means of pictures, and linguists had now taught him to read and write English.
From Rohrer's description, the saucers consisted of giant rotating discs with stationary cabins.
"I have been in one saucer," he told the chamber of commerce men. "It was 100 feet in diameter and 18 feet thick. The saucer was put together in five sections, and sleeping quarters for the crew are tubes with caps on the ends."
The cabins, he added, were pressured with 30 per cent oxygen and 70 per cent helium. (The oxygen-helium combination, in a different ratio, is now being considered by our own space-travel planners.) For propulsion the discs used electrostatic turbines, and the magnetic fields created by the rotating rings gave them tremendous speeds. Variations in the fields, at different speeds, explained the various color changes so frequently reported.
Because of their high voltages, said Rohrer, the discs usually avoided close approaches to cities and planes. But on one occasion, in a section of Seattle, fuses were blown and electric appliances were burned out when a disc momentarily flew too low.
The government, Rohrer concluded, was keeping it secret because of possible panic.
When this report became public, some people tied it to the Aluminum Man story of 1950: the capped sleeping tubes sounded like the "silvery capsules" with little men, supposed to have fallen from a disc hit by antiaircraft fire.
As Chop had expected, Rohrer's story brought a new crop of letters demanding the truth. He told me that ATIC knew nothing of the discs Rohrer reported.
"Why doesn't the Air Force publicly deny it?" I asked him.
"We'd rather not," said Chop.
"Why? Colonel Watson denied the Scully story, and this man's gone a lot farther. He claims he's been inside a saucer. I don't see how you can let it stand."
Chop shook his head dubiously.
"It'll cause more publicity if we make a statement."
"Well, then make him retract the story without mentioning the Air Force."
"How?" said Chop. "We can't order Rohrer to retract it."
"Have General Samford get him on the phone and throw a scare into him. Put it to him point-blank—where did he see the saucer, what date, who were the officers that showed it to him? The general could tell him he'd have to retract it or the Air Force would blast him. Even if Rohrer meant it just as a joke, a lot of people will believe it, if you let it ride."
Chop rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"It's an idea—about General Samford, I mean. I'll put it up to Intelligence."
Next day he told me it had been turned down.
"We'd have to go through channels—this way, it might offend the Area commander."
"That sounds pretty flimsy to me," I said. "I don't know of any regulation that keeps the Director of Intelligence from making a phone call."
"Anyway, local Intelligence men would have to check on Rohrer's story."
"If you know it's bunk, why bother to check?"
"That's the routine."
"What about the people who wrote in? You going to tell them it was a hoax?"
"No. Well just say we haven't any knowledge of what Rohrer claims."
Shortly after this the story of a sensational encounter by a West Palm Beach scoutmaster, hit papers all over the country. After the Rohrer case, I expected the Air Force to ignore it. But Intelligence surprised me.
The saucer encounter took place in a woods near West Palm Beach, on the night of August 19, 1952. About 9 o'clock that evening, Scoutmaster D. S. Desvergers and three scouts were riding home from a meeting when they saw strange lights in the woods. Leaving the boys in his
car Desvergers went to investigate, carrying a machete and a flashlight.
Two minutes later one of the scouts saw a reddish-white ball of fire. It came from about the height of the trees and seemed to slant down toward the spot where Desvergers had last been seen. When the scoutmaster failed to return, one boy ran to the nearest house and phoned for the sheriff.
Just as the sheriff arrived, Desvergers came out of the woods, apparently badly frightened and on the verge of exhaustion. He had reached a clearing, he said, when he realized something was hovering above him. Pointing his flashlight upward, he saw a metallic disc-shaped machine about 25 feet in diameter. An instant later the saucer's turret opened. Then a fiery spray shot out at him, scorching his arm and burning his hat. When he got to his feet after lying dazed for a few minutes, the saucer was gone.
Many people took Desvergers' story seriously, and with good reason. The scoutmaster's arm was curiously reddened, his hat was burned, and when the sheriff searched the clearing he found a small scorched area. But later Desvergers refused to talk with reporters, holding his story for a magazine sale, and some people, like me, began to wonder.
However, there had been one other case where a saucer was said to have burned an observer. Two boys at Amarillo, Texas, had reported seeing a small disc land near them, its top section still spinning. When one boy touched it, the rotating part speeded up, throwing off a hot gas or spray. Then the disc took off with a whistling sound and quickly disappeared.
To back up this incredible story, the boy displayed some odd red spots on his face and arms. Later I was told that Intelligence had made no investigation; apparently they believed the story had been made up to cover some childish prank which had caused the burns. It sounded like a logical answer.
Remembering this, I expected the Desvergers case to
get the same treatment. Instead, I found that Ruppelt had been ordered to fly to Florida for an on-the-spot check. After quizzing Desvergers, Ruppelt took the scoutmaster's cap back to Dayton for analysis.
"What's the low-down on that case?" I asked Chop a few days later.
No final conclusion yet," he said. "Personally, I wouldn't waste time on it."
But even if there was nothing to the story, one fact stuck in my mind. The Air Force had ordered a special investigation by Captain Ruppelt, instead of a routine check by an Intelligence officer from Miami. At least they had not believed such an encounter impossible.
While I was thinking this over, a new "space ship" report came in, from the town of Pittsburgh, Kansas. There was only one witness, a musician named Squires, who worked at station KOAM.
Just about dawn, on August 27, Squires was driving into Pittsburgh when he saw something hovering above an open field. When he got closer he saw it was a machine composed of two huge discs, one above the other. Between them was a round cabin with three or four curved windows, through which he could see a bluish light. The discs, he said later, were about 75 feet in diameter.
The saucer, Squires reported, was hovering ten feet above the ground. He got out of his car, cautiously approached the strange machine. As he came nearer, he could dimly see movement inside the cabin. Though he was not sure, he thought he saw a shadowy, humanlike figure. At the same time he heard an odd, pulsating sound from some unknown type of machinery.
Before he could get any closer, the blue-lighted ship suddenly lifted. Taking off straight up, it swiftly climbed out of sight.
Since there were no other witnesses, the musician's story was ridiculed by some papers. At the Pentagon I found three different reactions. Though a check on Squires showed he had a reputation for honesty, Lieutenant Colonel
Searles gave his story the horselaugh. Chop took it more seriously, but he denied that Project Bluebook was making a special investigation. In view of this, I was surprised when an Intelligence officer gave me a tip on the case.
"Don't write off the Pittsburgh sighting," he said. "If I were you, I'd go out there and check on it personally. Also, I'd get all the facts on that Pan American sighting near Norfolk. It's one of the most impressive reports we have."
A New York trip kept me from going to Kansas, but I put in a request for the two case reports.
"I can tell you right now about the Pittsburgh sighting," said Chop. "The Project's listed it as unexplained. They got some soil samples from the spot where the thing was hovering, so they could test for radioactivity. But the samples were broken up when they came in, so they couldn't make an accurate analysis."
While I was waiting for the Pan American report, I found myself faced with another puzzle—the case of the "Sutton Monster."
Of all the eerie saucer stories, this was the weirdest. There is good evidence that this was merely a case of autosuggestion and hysteria, but it has some peculiar angles.
The action took place near Sutton, West Virginia, on the night of September 12. Early that evening a glowing object was seen by thousands of people as it flashed over the state. Among those who saw it, near Sutton, were Mrs. Kathleen May, her three young boys, and a 17-year-old National Guardsman, Gene Lemon. Though they couldn't be sure, they thought they saw something land on a nearby hill.
It was dark when they climbed the slope, and Gene Lemon turned on his flashlight. The first thing they noticed was an unpleasant, suffocating odor. As they neared the spot where the object seemed to have landed, two shining eyes were reflected in the light. Thinking it was a raccoon on a limb, young Lemon caught it in the beam.
The light fell squarely on a huge figure, at least nine feet tall, with a sweaty red face and protruding eyes about a foot apart. As the light fell on it, the monster's body glowed a dull green, then with an odd hissing sound it started toward them.
Terrified, Mrs. May and the boys fled down the hill. While Mrs. May was phoning the sheriff, her mother noticed a queer oily substance on the boys' faces. Soon after this, their throats began to swell. Later it was suggested that the monster had sprayed the boys with some kind of gas; but in the excitement Mrs. May could not be certain.
When the sheriff arrived, a fog was settling over the hillside. Twice he tried to get his dogs to lead him to the spot where the monster had been seen. Each time they ran away, howling, and he gave up until morning.
During the night the Lemon boy became seriously ill, almost in convulsions. His throat, like those of the May boys, was strangely inflamed and swollen. Later, a doctor compared the effects with those of mustard gas.
Just after sunrise, according to a Sutton school-board member, a strange machine took off from the hilltop. When the sheriff and his men searched the area they found tracks on the ground, the grass mashed flat, and bits of what looked like black plastic. There was no trace of the fearful-looking creature Mrs. May and the boys had described.
Such was the Sutton Monster tale.
When the story first appeared, it gave none of the evidence found on the hilltop, and I put it down to hysteria. As a joke, I phoned Chop.
"How many Intelligence officers are you rushing down to Sutton?"
"You, too?" he said sourly. "We're not even bothering to investigate. Several astronomers said a meteor went over there. Those people must have dreamed up the rest."
But the Sutton story wasn't so easily downed. Radio commentators repeated it all over the country. A newspaper
syndicate ran a series of articles. Then Mrs. May and the Lemon boy appeared on "We, the People" and retold their frightening experience. It was obvious they believed the monster was real, and a dozen papers and magazines sent staff writers to Sutton for new angles on the story.
"This could get out of hand," I told Chop. "Why doesn't the Air Force squelch it?"
"We've already said the object was a meteor," he retorted.
"A lot of people don't believe it. And the way this has built up, it's bad. It plants the menace idea ten times more than Desvergers' story did."
(About three months later, when the scoutmaster's story appeared in the American Weekly Magazine, Desvergers said he had seen a terrifying creature in the saucer's turret —so dreadful he would not even describe it. But in September, when the Sutton case broke, this was not widely known.)
"It'll die out," Chop insisted.
"But people will remember it later, if something breaks. Why doesn't Intelligence go down there and kill it? They sent Ed Ruppelt to Florida, and that thing didn't have half the potential danger."
"We didn't know the answer to that one. This time we do. All those people saw was a meteor—they imagined the rest. We can't send Intelligence officers out on every crazy report—Project Bluebook hasn't the people or the funds."
But that didn't stand up. Major Fournet and other investigators were available in Washington; a plane from Bolling Field could get them there in an hour. A local Intelligence officer could have been sent from the nearest base, or the check-up could be made by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, which had men in West Virginia.
Despite Chop's answer, the Air Force hands-off attitude seemed peculiar to me. For the monster story was having a serious effect, in addition to letters from worried
Americans. With the Air Force apparently refusing to act, some civilian investigating groups were now taking over at Sutton. One of these was the Delaware organization, which made a careful check at the scene.
"This monster story could very well be true," one of the Delaware group told me. "We've gone over all the evidence, and we re convinced those people aren't faking—they're absolutely convinced they saw the thing. And from what we saw, something did land on that hill."
Soon after this, I discovered that the Air Force had not ignored the Sutton report. To avoid public attention Intelligence had worked through the West Virginia state police, securing all the details. Later, from a source outside the Pentagon, I heard that Intelligence had followed this up by sending two men in civilian clothes who posed as magazine writers while interviewing witnesses. Even if this was not true—and the Air Force denied it—their check through the state police showed more interest than they had admitted.
There was only one reasonable answer, and I should have seen it before. If the Air Force had sent investigators publicly in the hope of killing the story, it might have backfired. Papers and magazines would picture the Intelligence officers as making a serious investigation. It might seem proof to some people that the Air Force was soberly impressed by the report—or at least that giants from space were considered a strong possibility.
When the time came to admit that the saucers were real, the slightest official hint of possible menace would be quickly remembered. From that angle the Sutton story was dangerous, with its picture of a fearsome creature intelligent enough to build and control space ships. It was far better to brand the whole thing as a hallucination— which Intelligence evidently believed was the answer.
It was not until months later that I found my guess was right. In January, 1953, I was told what Intelligence believed to be the basic facts.
First, the glowing object seen by Mrs. May and the boys
actually was a meteor; it merely appeared to be landing when it disappeared over the hill. Second, the group did see two glowing eyes, probably those of a large owl perched on a limb. Underbrush below may have given the impression of a giant figure, and in their excitement they imagined the rest. Third, the boys' illness was a physical effect brought on by their fright. Fourth, the flattened grass and supposed tracks were caused by the first villagers when they came to investigate.
Civilian investigators who examined the hilltop refuse to accept these answers, especially in view of the doctor's report on the boys' inflamed throats. Whether or not the Air Force analysis is correct, one point is certain—Intelligence carefully avoided a public investigation in order to prevent hysteria.
But for months no one at the Pentagon would admit it.
"We're simply not bothering with monster stories," Chop repeated, when I asked him again in November. "We've got enough trouble with confirmed sightings."
By way of proof he gave me two Intelligence reports from ATIC.
The first sighting had been on August 3, at Hamilton Air Force Base in California. At 4:15 p.m., two huge silvery discs, flying at different altitudes, had raced out of the east. As jet pilots on the ground watched them, the higher machine dived to the other one's level. Then the two saucers began to circle the base, maneuvering like fighter planes in a dogfight.
The pilot who saw them first, Lieutenant D. A. Swimley, had always scoffed at the saucers. Still incredulous, he got a pair of binoculars and trained them on the strange craft. He could plainly see their round shapes, but the discs were too high for detailed observations.
By this time GCI radar had picked up the saucers' blips, and plane spotters were phoning in reports. While interceptor pilots were dashing for their F-86s, six more discs came into sight and joined the others. As Swimley and other pilots watched from the ground, the saucers took
up a diamond-shaped formation, heading into the west. Before the jets could reach their altitude, the machines had vanished.
When an Intelligence officer questioned Swimley, he estimated the discs to be 60 to 100 feet in diameter.
"And don't tell me they were reflections," he added. "I know they were solid objects."
The second sighting had been made by Colonel Carl Sanderson, another jet pilot who had also been a skeptic. In a coolly factual report he told Intelligence officers he was now convinced the discs were real.
"On the 24th of August," he said, "I was flying an F-84 at 35,000 feet, en route to Turner Air Force Base, in Georgia. At 10:15, Mountain Standard Time, I sighted two round silvery objects flying abreast over Hermanas, New Mexico. One made a right turn, in front of my F-84. Both objects disappeared at very high speed, then reappeared over El Paso, Texas. I saw one climb straight up, two or three thousand feet. Then the second one came across in front of me and joined the other in close formation. In a few minutes they both vanished. From their maneuvers and their terrific speed, I am certain their flight performance was greater than any aircraft known today."
In both of these cases, and especially at Hamilton Field, there had been ample time for pilots or ground men to try to signal the saucers. But the reports made no mention of such an attempt.
At the end of the July press conference, I had asked Colonel Bowers about this. He told me the Air Force had never tried to communicate with the saucers, and Ruppelt had given me the same answer.
Now, after reading the two IRs, I brought it up again.
"Why didn't somebody try to signal those discs?" I asked Chop.
"Probably didn't think of it," he said.
"Are you sure the Air Force has never tried it?"
"Positive. Oh, some pilot may have blinked his lights
or tried a radio contact—but there's no official plan for communication."
"Why don't they work out a program? It would be easy to set up a simple code system—the same one would work for radio and blinking lights. All the airliner pilots could be in on it, too."
Chop reached for a cigarette, took his time lighting it.
"We can't set up any public scheme like that. People would take it as an official admission."
"Of what?" I said as he stopped.
"That the saucers are interplanetary."
"It's pretty clear from all these reports that Intelligence thinks so."
"Even if the evidence did indicate it," Chop said carefully, "the Air Force would never admit it until they had absolute proof and knew all the answers."
"How much do they know? They must have most of the picture—except maybe the motive back of all this."
Chop silently shook his head, and I let it drop.
Once again I'd come up against the invisible wall. In talks with Air Force officers I'd met the same resistance. Time and again I'd been given proof that the saucers were real, that they were super machines capable of speeds and maneuvers no earth-made craft could attain. Beyond this, most of my questions had been neatly evaded.
Even so, I'd come a long way since July. The first riddle had been cleared up—I knew now why I was getting this close cooperation.
It was a curious situation. The officers and civilian officials involved in UFO policy decisions were divided, roughly, into three main groups. The first, which I’ll call Group A, believed that sighting reports should be made public to prepare the country for the final solution—whatever it proved to be. Most of the men in this group had seen all the evidence and were convinced the saucers were machines superior to any known aircraft. The other two groups believed in silence, but for different reasons. Those in the B group also had seen the evidence, believed the
saucers were real, but feared the effect of a public admission. Group C was made up of hardheaded nonbelievers. Most of them had never troubled to examine the ATIC evidence; the few who had, flatly refused to believe it.
Since the first part of '52, Group A had urged that ATIC files be opened to the press. At first the two "silence" groups stubbornly resisted. But there was one argument that carried weight. The Soviet might suddenly claim that the saucers were Russian weapons. With the country ignorant of the facts, many Americans might believe the lie, increasing the chance of nationwide stampedes if the Russians made a sneak attack.
Reluctantly the "silence" men gave ground. The first result had been the Life and Look articles, written with ATIC aid. Then the July crisis arose, forcing Intelligence to debunk the saucers. When the danger of a panic was over, Group A began to fight again, pointing to the July hysteria as proof for their case.
At this time, by sheer good luck, I had gone to the Pentagon and made my offer. By then the Menzel theory had served its purpose; some Intelligence officers felt it should not be allowed to stand as the official answer. Believing that I would give a fair picture of the Air Force problem, Intelligence had released the facts which wrecked the inversion story.
Some time after the article was written, an Intelligence officer gave me a new slant on Project Sign and the early investigation.
"I've read your book," he said. "You were right about the policy of explaining sightings, but you had the reasons all wrong. Back in those days most Air Force people were convinced the saucers didn't exist. It seemed just too fantastic. Oh, there were a few in Project Sign who thought the saucers must be real, but the evidence wasn't so definite then and the majority believed each sighting must have a conventional explanation. So that was the guiding policy, to find the most likely answer. Some of them, I’ll
admit, were farfetched, but the policy was based on an honest belief."
"What about the space visitor’s suggestion?" I asked. "The one that said spacemen might have seen our A-bomb explosions and were investigating."
"That was only speculation. It would have been better if that hadn't been released—and that goes for those 'explaining-away' reports you quoted. You made a good case. No one could have come to any other conclusion, after digging into the evidence as you did. But we weren't trying to prepare the public because we just didn't know the answers. And that's the God's honest truth."
After this talk, I asked for all the old ATIC reports and rechecked the main cases. Though I wasn't completely convinced, I could see this new slant might be true—the Air Force might not have been hiding the answer, back in the early years.
But I was positive they knew a lot more than they were telling now.
By this time—it was mid-November—the Pan American-Norfolk report had been cleared for me. I could see why Intelligence had been impressed. This was one of the very few cases where pilots had flown above the saucers. Seeing the discs at a low altitude, with the earth as a background, the pilots had been able to make accurate estimates of their size and speed.
On that night, July 14, the weather had been CAVU— clear and visibility unlimited. In the darkness of early evening the pilots could see the distant lights of Norfolk and Newport News.
It was 9:12 by the cockpit clock when Nash and Fortenberry saw the strange reddish glow ahead. A split second later they could see the six discs. Glowing an orange red, like hot metal, the saucers approached at fantastic speed, a mile below the airliner. By comparison with ground objects, 2,000 feet below them, the discs appeared to be 100 feet in diameter.
The six strange craft were in echelon formation, the
leader at the lowest point. Apparently sighting the DC-4, the first disc abruptly slowed, its bright glow dimming noticeably. As it slowed down, the next two discs wobbled for an instant. To the pilots it seemed they almost overran the leader, as if his signal had come too quickly.
Then in unison all six discs flipped up on edge. From that brief glimpse, they seemed to be about 15 feet thick. Only the upper surfaces glowed; the sides and the bottoms appeared to be dark.
With a violent change of course—at least 150 degrees— the saucers streaked away. Flipping back to their original flat position, they again lined up in echelon, their glow brightening swiftly as if from an increase in power.
A second after this two other discs raced under the DC-4 and joined the six ahead. In the two or three seconds it took to catch up, these discs seemed to glow the brightest of all.
Suddenly all the saucers went dark. When their glow reappeared, the pilots saw that all eight machines were now in line. Heading west, the discs climbed to a high altitude and quickly vanished in the night.
After radioing the Norfolk tower, Nash and Fortenberry estimated the discs' speed with a Dalton Mark 7 computer. The distance covered, from the first sighting to the point of disappearance, was about 50 miles. The strange machines had traveled this distance in not over 15 seconds, at a speed of 200 miles a minute.
It was an unbelievable figure. Later, in talking with reporters, the pilots warily gave the speed as "something over 1,000 miles an hour." Even in their confidential reports to Intelligence, the two men hesitated in telling their true estimate. But to their surprise the Air Force men did not scoff, either at the incredible speed or the discs' fantastic reversal in course.
From the way the saucers abruptly lighted up when first sighted, the pilots suggested they might have been hovering near Norfolk. Perhaps they had been observing the city, the naval base, or the naval air station. Or they
could have been waiting to rendezvous with the two other discs.
Regardless of their purpose, both Nash and Fortenberry were convinced the discs were intelligently controlled machines from outer space. Whether they were under remote control, or guided by creatures inside, neither man would hazard a guess. But both agreed that no human being on earth could have stood the shock of the discs' violent maneuvers.
In the Intelligence report ATIC made no comment on the pilots' opinion. As usual, in unsolved cases, it ended with a terse: "Conclusion: Unknown."
Because of its precise details, the Norfolk sighting was later included in the secret briefings at Washington. With all the developments since July, I had forgotten about these briefings. Then, early in December, I heard that Intelligence officers had given a new report on the saucers to high Defense officials, among them Admiral Cal Bolster.
Though we were old friends, I knew Cal couldn't reveal what he'd been told secretly. But it gave me a new angle to try at the Pentagon, so I went in and saw Chop.
"How about putting some cards on the table?" I asked.
"Such as what?" he said.
"The lowdown on the saucer briefings."
"What do you want to know?" he said warily.
"Are they top-secret, secret, or confidential?"
"Let's just say they're classified."
"Who gets them?"
"I haven't any list. Secretary Finletter's was the only one announced."
"How about the Director of Naval Research Admiral Bolster?"
"Maybe. I can't say."
"Look, Al," I said, "you and everybody else keep telling me you're not holding out. I appreciate all that the Air Force has done for me, but these secret briefings are the key to the whole deal. It's obvious Intelligence knows something pretty hot—"
"They don't have all the answers," Chop said flatly. "They simply discuss recent sightings, like the ones you've got."
"For two or three hours—busy people like Cal Bolster? They must cover a lot more than that."
All that drew was silence. I tried another tack. "Does anybody but the military get these briefings?"
"Maybe a few top people in certain civilian agencies."
"How about the President?"
"If they did brief him, it would be through his Air Force aide."
"Well, have they?"
"Don, I can't answer that," Chop said doggedly. "You'd have to get it straight from Intelligence."
"They must think there's some real danger, if it's bottled up that tight."
"It's not that. If you were in on a briefing, you'd get just about what we've been giving you."
"Then why not give me a transcript of a briefing?"
Chop threw up his hands.
"We can't do that. It would show certain secret Intelligence procedures."
"OK, Al, I give up. Hope you don't mind the third degree."
He gave me a weary grin.
"No, I'm used to it in this job."
For the next day or two I tried to think of some new approach to the problem. Temporarily, at least, I seemed to have come to a standstill at the Pentagon, though they might tell me more later.
But there was another source I hadn't tried recently— the engineer in charge of the first Canadian saucer project, Mr. Wilbur B. Smith.
Since 1950, Smith had given me several valuable leads. The Canadian situation had changed, I knew; security could have muzzled him. But if not, I might get a clue that would lead to the final answer.