The Roswell Desert
THE NIGHT HUGS THE GROUND AND SWALLOWS YOU UP AS YOU drive out of
Albuquerque and into the desert. As you head east along 40 and then
south along 285 to Roswell, there’s only you and the tiny universe
ahead of you defined by your headlights. On either side, beyond the
circle of light, there is only scrub and sand. The rest is all
darkness that closes in behind you, flooding where you’ve been under
a giant ocean of black, and pushes you forward along the few hundred
feet of road directly ahead.
The sky is different out there, different from any sky you’ve ever
seen before. The black is so clear it looks like the stars shining
through it are tiny windows from the beginning of time, millions of
them, going on forever. On a hot summer night you can sometimes see
flashes of heat lightning explode in the distance. Somewhere it is
light for an instant, then the darkness returns. But summer is the
rainy season in the New Mexico desert, and thunderstorms assemble
over you out of nowhere, pound the earth with rain and lightning,
pummel the darkness with crashes of thunder, shake the ground until
you feel the earth is breaking apart, and then disappear. The
ranchers out there will tell you that the local storms can go on all
night, bouncing off the arroyos like pinballs in play until they
expend themselves over the horizon. That’s what it was like fifty
years ago on a night much like this.
Although I wasn’t there that night, I’ve heard many different
versions. Many of them go like this: Base radar at the army’s 509th
airfield Outside the town of Roswell had been tracking strange blips
all night on July 1, 1947. So had radar at nearby White Sands, the
army’s guided missile base where test launches of German V2 rockets
had been taking place since the end of the war, and at the nuclear
testing facility at Alamogordo. The blips would appear at one corner
of the screen and dart across at seemingly impossible speeds for
aircraft, only to disappear off another corner. Then they’d start up
again. No earthly craft could have maneuvered at such speeds and
changed direction so sharply. It was a signature no one could
Whether it was the same aircraft, more than one, or simply
an anomaly from the violent lightning and thunderstorms was
anybody’s guess. So after the operators verified the calibrations of
the radar equipment, they broke down the units to run diagnostic
checks on the circuitry of the screen imaging devices to make sure
their radar panels were operating properly. Once they’d satisfied
themselves that they couldn’t report any equipment malfunction, the
controllers were forced to assume that the screen images were
displays of something that was truly out there.
They confirmed the
sightings with radar controllers at White Sands, but found they
could do little else but track the blips as they darted across the
screen with every sweep of the silent beacon. The blips swarmed from
position to position at will, operating with complete freedom across
the entire sky over the army’s most secret nuclear and missile
Throughout that night and the following day, Army Intelligence
stayed on high alert because something strange was going on out
there. Surveillance flights over the desert reported no sightings of
strange objects either in the sky or on the ground, but any sighting
of unidentified aircraft on radar was sufficient evidence for base
commanders to assume a hostile intent on the part of “something. “
And that was why the Army Intelligence in Washington ordered
additional counter intelligence personnel to New Mexico, especially
to the 509th, where the activity seemed to be centered.
The radar anomalies continued into the next night as Dan Wilmot,
owner of a hardware store in Roswell, set up
chairs on his front porch after dinner to watch the streaks of
lightning flash across the sky in the distance. Shortly
before ten that evening, the lightning grew more intense and the
ground shook under the explosions of thunder
from a summer storm that pounded the chaparral off in the northwest
of the city. Dan and his wife watched the
beneath the dry safety of their porch roof. It was as if each new
bolt of lightning were a spear that bent the heavens themselves.
“Better than any Fourth of July fireworks,“ the Wilmots must have
been remarking as they watched in awe as a bright oval object
streaked over their house and headed off into the northwest, sinking
below a rise just before the horizon where it was engulfed in
darkness. The sky again became pitch black. By the time the next
bolt of lightning shot off”, the object was gone. A most unusual
sight, Dan Wilmot thought, but it was gone from his sight and gone
from his thoughts, at least until the end of the week.
Whatever it was that passed over the Wilmot house in Roswell also
flew over Steve Robinson as he drove his milk truck along its route
north of the city. Robinson tracked the object as it shot across the
sky at speeds faster than any airplane he’d ever seen. It was a
bright object, he noted, elliptical and solid rather than a sequence
of lights like the military aircraft that flew in and out of the
509th airfield on the city’s outskirts. It disappeared behind a rise
off” in the west toward Albuquerque, and Steve put it out of his
mind as he pushed forward on his route.
To the civilians in Roswell, nothing was amiss. Summer thunder
storms were common, the reports of flying
saucers in the newspapers and over the radio were simply circus side
show amusements, and an object streaking
across the sky that so attracted the Wilmots’ attention could have
been nothing more than the shooting star you
make a wish on if you’re lucky enough to see it before it disappears
forever in a “puff” of flame. Soon it would be the July 4th weekend,
and the Wilmots, Steve Robinson, and thousands of other local
residents were looking forward to the unofficial start of the summer
holiday. But at the 509th there was no celebrating.
The isolated incidents of unidentified radar blips at Roswell and
White Sands continued to increase over the
next couple of days until it looked like a steady stream of airspace
violations. Now it was becoming more than
serious. There was no denying that a traffic pattern of strange
aircraft overflights was emerging in the skies over
the New Mexico desert where, with impunity, these unidentifiable
radar blips hovered above and then darted
away from our most secret military installations. By the time the
military’s own aircraft scrambled, the intruders
It was obvious to the base commanders that they were
under a heavy surveillance from a presence
they could only assume was hostile. At first, nobody gave much
to the possibility of extraterrestrials or flying saucers, even
though they’d been in the news for the past few weeks that spring.
Army officers at the 509th and White Sands thought it was the
Russians spying on the military’s first nuclear bomber base and its
guided-missile launching site.
By now Army Counter intelligence, this highly secret command sector
which in 1947 operated almost as much in the civilian sector as it
did in the military, had spun up to its highest alert and ordered a
full deployment of its most experienced crack World War II
operatives out to Roswell. CIC personnel had begun to arrive from
Washington when the first reports of strange radar blips were filed
through intelligence channels and kept coming as the reports
continued to pile up with increasing urgency over the next
forty-eight hours. Officers and enlisted men alike disembarked from
the transport planes and changed into civilian clothes for the
investigation into enemy activities on the area. They joined up with
base intelligence officers like Maj. Jesse Marcel and Steve Arnold,
a Counter intelligence noncom who’d served at the Roswell base
during World War II when the first nuclear bombing mission against
Hiroshima was launched from there in August 1945, just about two
On the evening of July 4, 1947 (though the dates may differ
depending on who is telling the story), while the rest of the
country was celebrating Independence Day and looking with great
optimism at the costly peace that the sacrifice of its soldiers had
brought, radar operators at sites around Roswell noticed that the
strange objects were turning up again and looked almost as if they
were changing their shapes on the screen.
They were pulsating - it
was the only way you could describe it - glowing more intensely and
then dimly as tremendous thunderstorms broke out over the desert.
Steve Arnold, posted to the Roswell airfield control tower that
evening, had never seen a blip behave like that as it darted across
the screen between sweeps at speeds over a thousand miles an hour.
All the while it was pulsating, throbbing almost, until, while the
skies over the base exploded in a biblical display of thunder and
lightning, it arced to the lower left hand quadrant of the screen,
seemed to disappear for a moment, then exploded in a brilliant white
fluorescence and evaporated right before his very eyes.
The screen was clear. The blips were gone. And as controllers looked
around at each other and at the CIC officers in the room, the same
thought arose in all their minds: An object, whatever it was, had
crashed. The military response was put into motion within seconds:
This was a national security issue - jump on that thing in the
desert and bring it back before anyone else could find it.
Even before the radar officer called the 509th base commander, Col.
William Blanchard, reporting that radar indicated the crash of an
unidentified aircraft to the north and west of Roswell, the CIC
dispatch team had already mobilized to deploy an immediate-response
crash-and-retrieval team to locate and secure the crash site. They
believed this was an enemy aircraft that had slipped through our
radar defense system either from South America or over the Canadian
border and had taken photos of top-secret military installations.
They also wanted to keep civilians away just in case, they said,
there was any radiation from the craft’s propulsion system, which
allowed it to make hairpin turns at three thousand miles an hour.
Nobody knew how this thing was powered, and nobody knew whether any
personnel had ejected from the aircraft and were wandering around
the desert. “Bull” Blanchard green-lighted the retrieval mission to
get out there as soon as possible, taking with them all the night
patrol equipment they could scare up, all the two-and-a-half-ton
trucks that they could roll, and the base’s “low-boy” flatbed
wreckers to bring the aircraft back. If it was a crash, they wanted
to get it under wraps in a hangar before any civilian authorities
could get their hands on it and blab to the newspapers.
But the air controllers at the 509th weren’t the only ones who
thought they saw an aircraft go down. On the outskirts of the city,
ranchers, families camping in the desert, and residents saw an
aircraft that exploded in a bright light in between flashes of
lightning and plummeted to earth in the direction of Corona, the
neighboring town to the north of Roswell.
Chavez County sheriff
George Wilcox started receiving calls in his office shortly after
midnight on the morning of the fifth that an airplane had crashed
out in the desert, and he notified the Roswell Fire Department that
he would dispatch them as soon as he had an approximate location. No
sense pulling fire apparatus out of the station house to chase
something through the desert unless they knew where it was. Besides,
Wilcox didn’t like rolling the trucks out of town just in case there
was a fire in the city that needed all the apparatus they could
throw at it, especially the pumpers.
However, finding the crash site didn’t take long. A group of Indian
artifact hunters camping in the scrub brush north of Roswell had
also seen the pulsating light overhead, heard a hurtling hiss and
the strange, ground shaking “thunk” of a crash nearby in the
distance, and followed the sound to a group of low hills just over
arise. Before they even inspected the smoking wreckage, they radioed
the crash site location into Sheriff” Wilcox’s office, which
dispatched the fire department to a spot about thirty-seven miles
north and west of the city.
“I’m already on my way, “ he told the radio operator at the
firehouse, who also called the city police for an escort.
And by about four-thirty that morning, a single pumper and police
car were bouncing through the desert taking Pine Lodge Road west to
where Sheriff Wilcox had directed them. Neither the sheriff nor the
fire department knew that a military retrieval team was also on its
way to the site with orders to secure the location and, by any means
necessary, prevent the unauthorized dissemination of any information
about the crash.
It was still dark when, from another direction, Steve Arnold, riding
shotgun in one of the staff cars in the convoy of recovery vehicles
from the 509th, reached the crash site first. Even before their
trucks rolled into position, an MP lieutenant from the first jeep
posted a picket of sentries, and an engineer ordered his unit to
string a series of floodlights around the area. Then Arnold’s car
pulled up, and he got his own first glimpse of the wreckage. But it
wasn’t really wreckage at all - not in the way he’d seen plane
crashes during the war. From what he could make out through the
purple darkness, the dark skinned craft seemed mostly intact and had
lost no large pieces. Sure, there were bits and pieces of debris all
over the area, but the aircraft itself hadn’t broken apart on impact
the way a normal airplane would. And the whole scene was still
shrouded in darkness.
Then, the staff cars and jeeps that had accompanied the trucks lined
up head on to the crash and threw their headlights against the
arroyo to supplement the floodlights that were still being strung by
the engineers. In the sudden intersecting beams of headlights,
Arnold could see that, indeed, the soft cornered delta shaped
eggshell type of craft was essentially in one piece, even though it
had embedded its nose hard into the embankment of the arroyo with
its tail high in the air. Heat was still rising off the debris even
though, according to the base radar at the 509th, the crash probably
took place before midnight on the 4th.
Then Arnold heard the brief
sizzle of a battery charging up and the hum of a gasoline generator.
That’s when the string of lights came up, and the whole site
suddenly looked like a baseball field before a big night game.
In the stark light of the military searchlights, Arnold saw the
entire landscape of the crash. He thought it looked more like a
crash landing because the craft was intact except for a split seam
running lengthwise along the side and the steep
forty-five-plus-degree angle of the craft’s incline. He assumed it
was a craft, even though it was like no airplane he’d ever seen. It
was small, but it looked more like the flying wing shape of an old
Curtis than an ellipse or a saucer.
And it had two tail fins on the
top sides of the delta’s feet that pointed up and out. He angled
himself as close to the split seam of the craft as he could get
without stepping in front of the workers in hazardous material suits
who were checking the site for radiation, and that was when he saw
them in the shadow. Little dark gray figures - maybe four, four and
a half feet in length - sprawled across the ground.
“Are those people?” Arnold heard someone say as medics rushed up
with stretchers to the knife like laceration along the side of the
craft through which the bodies had either crawled or tumbled.
Arnold looked around the perimeter of light and saw another figure,
motionless but menacing nevertheless, and another leaning against a
small rise in the desert sand. There was a fifth figure near the
opening of the craft. As radiation technicians gave the all clear
and medics ran to the bodies with stretchers, Arnold sneaked a look
through the rip in the aircraft and stared out through the top.
Jehosaphat! It looked like the sun was already up. Just to make
sure, Steve Arnold looked around the outside again and, sure enough,
it was still too dark to call it daylight. But through the top of
the craft, as if he were looking through a lens, Arnold could see an
eerie stream of light, not daylight or lamplight, but light
He’d never seen anything like that before and thought
that maybe this was a weapon the Russians or somebody else had
The scene at the crash site was a microcosm of chaos. Technicians
with specific tasks, such as medics, hazardous material sweepers,
signalmen and radio operators, and sentries were carrying out their
jobs as methodically and unthinkingly as if they were the Emperor
Ming’s brainwashed furnace stoking zombies from the Flash Gordon
serials. But everyone else, including the officers, were simply
awestruck. They’d never seen anything like this before, and they
stood there, overpowered, it seemed, by simply a general sense of
amazement that would not let them out of its grip.
“Hey, this one’s alive, “ Arnold heard, and turned around to see one
of the little figures struggling on the ground. With the rest of the
medics, he ran over to it and watched as it shuddered and made a
crying sound that echoed not in the air but in his brain. He heard
nothing through his ears, but felt an overwhelming sense of sadness
as the little figure convulsed on the ground, its oversized egg
shaped skull flipping from side to side as if it was trying to gasp
for something to breathe. That’s when he heard the sentry shout,
“Hey, you!” and turned back to the shallow rise opposite the arroyo.
“Halt!” the sentry screamed at the small figure that had gotten up
and was trying desperately to climb over the hill.
“Halt!” the sentry yelled again and brought his Ml to bear. Other
soldiers ran toward the hill as the figure slipped in the sand,
started to slide down, caught his footing, and climbed again. The
sound of soldiers locking and loading rounds in their chambers
carried loud across the desert through the predawn darkness.
“No!” one of the officers shouted. Arnold couldn’t see which one,
but it was too late.
There was a rolling volley of shots from the nervous soldiers, and
as the small figure tried to stand, he was flung over like a rag
doll and then down the hill by the rounds that tore into him. He lay
motionless on the sand as the first three soldiers to reach him
stood over the body, chambered new rounds, and pointed their weapons
at his chest.
“Fuck, “ the officer spit again. “Arnold. “ Steve Arnold snapped to
attention. “You and your men get out there and stop those civilians
from crossing this perimeter. “ He motioned to the small convoy of
emergency vehicles approaching them from the east. He knew they had
to be police or county sheriff. Then he called out, “Medics. “
Arnold jumped to at once, and by the time the medics were loading
the little creature on a stretcher, he was already setting up a
perimeter of CIC personnel and sentries to block the site from the
flashing lights and churning sand far in the distance to the south
of them. He heard the officer order the medics to load the bodies on
stretchers, pack them in the back of whatever two-and-a-half-ton CMC
he could pull off the line, and drive them back to the base
“Sergeant, “ the officer called out again. “I want your men to load
up everything that can be loaded on these deuce-and-a-halfs and sway
that damn . . . whatever it is” - he was pointing to the delta
shaped object - “on this low-boy and get it out of here. The rest of
you, “ he called out. “I want this place spotless. Nothing ever
happened here, you understand? Just a nothing piece of scrub brush
like the rest of this desert. “
As the soldiers formed an arm in arm “search and rescue” grid, some
on their hands and knees, to clean the area of any pieces of debris,
devices, or chunks of wreckage, the huge retrieval crane that had
been deployed from the air base hoisted the surprisingly light
flying object out of its impact crater in the arroyo and swayed it
above the long flatbed Ford that accompanied the convoy of army
trucks. A small squad of MPs were deployed to face the civilian
convoy of emergency vehicles quickly approaching the site. They
fixed bayonets and lowered their Ml barrels at the whirlwind of sand
directly in front of them.
On the other side of the skirmish line, Roswell firefighter Dan
Dwyer, the radioman riding shotgun on the red Ward LaFrance pumper
the company rolled that night along with the tanker, could see very
little at first except for an oasis of white light in the center of
darkness. His small convoy had been running lights but no sirens as
they pulled out of the firehouse in the center of Roswell, rendez
voused with the police car north of town, and headed out to the site
to rescue what he had been told was a downed aircraft.
approached the brightly lit area of floodlights off in the distance
- it looked more like a small traveling amusement park than a crash
site - he could already see the soldiers in a rough circle around an
object that was swinging from the arm of a crane. As the LaFrance
got closer, Dwyer could just make the strange deltoid shape of the
thing as it hung, very precariously, from the arm, almost dropping
once or twice under the very inexperienced control of the equipment
operator. Even at this distance, the sound of shouting and cursing
was carrying across the sand as the crane was raised, then lowered,
then raised as the object finally sat over the Ford flatbed trailer.
The police unit ahead of the fire truck suddenly shot out toward the
brightly lit area as soon as the driver saw the activity, and
immediately the area was obscured from Dwyer’s vision by clouds of
sand that diffused the light. All he could see through the thicket
of sand were the reflections of his own flashing lights. When the
sand cleared, they were almost on top of the site, swinging off to
one side to avoid the army trucks that had already started hack down
the road toward them. Dwyer looked over his shoulder to see if any
more military vehicles were headed his way, but all he saw were the
first pink lines of sunlight over the horizon. It was almost
By the time Dwyer’s field truck pulled around to the area the
soldiers had pointed out, whatever it was that had crashed was
sitting on the flatbed, still clamped to the hovering crane. Three
or four soldiers were working on the coupling and securing the
object to the truck with chains and cable. But for something that
had dropped out of the sky in a fireball, which was how the police
described it, Dwyer noted that the object looked almost unscathed.
He couldn’t see any cracks in the object’s skin and there were no
pieces that had broken off. Then the soldiers dropped an olive tarp
over the flatbed and the object was completely camouflaged. An army
captain walked over to one of the police units parked directly in
front of the fire truck. And behind the officer stood a line of
bayonet wielding soldiers sporting MP armbands.
“You guys can head on back, “ Dwyer heard the captain tell one of
the Roswell police officers on the scene.
“We’ve got the area secured. “
“What about injuries?” the police officer asked, maybe thinking more
about the incident report he had to fill out than about what to do
with any casualties.
“No injuries. We have everything under control, “ the captain said.
But even as the military was waving off the civilian convoy, Dwyer
could see small bodies being lifted on stretchers from the ground
into army transport trucks. A couple of them were already in body
bags, but one, not bagged, was strapped directly onto the stretcher.
The police officer saw it, too. This one, Dwyer could tell, was
moving around and seemed to be alive. He had to get closer.
“What about them?” he asked.
“Hey, get those things loaded, “ the captain shouted at the enlisted
men loading the stretchers into the truck.
“You didn’t see anything here tonight, Officer, “ he told the driver
of the police unit. “Nothing at all. “
“But, I gotta ... “
The captain cut him off. “Later today, I’m sure, there’ll be someone
from the base out to talk to the shift; meanwhile, let this one
alone. Strictly military business. “
By this time Dwyer thought he recognized people he knew from
the army airfield. He thought he could see the base intelligence
officer, Jesse Marcel, who lived "off" the base in Roswell, and other
personnel who came into town on a regular basis. He saw debris from
whatever had crashed still lying all over the ground as the flatbed
truck pulled out, passed the fire apparatus, and rumbled off through
the sand back on the road toward the base.
Dwyer took off his fire helmet, climbed down from the truck, and
worked his way through the shadows around the flank of the line of
MPs. There was so much confusion at the site Dwyer knew no one would
notice if he looked around. He walked around in back of the truck,
across the perimeter, and from the other side of the military
transport truck walked up to the stretcher. He looked directly down
into the eyes of the creature strapped onto the stretcher and just
It was no bigger than a child, he thought. But it wasn’t a child. No
child had such an oversized balloon shaped head. It didn’t even look
human, although it had human like features. It’s eyes were large and
dark, set apart from each other on a downward slope. It’s nose and
mouth were especially tiny, almost like slits. And its ears were not
much more than indentations along the sides of its huge head. In the
glare of the floodlight, Dwyer could see that the creature was a
grayish brown and completely hairless, but it looked directly at him
as if it were a helpless animal in a trap.
It didn’t make a sound,
but somehow Dwyer understood that the creature understood it was
dying. He could gape in astonishment at the thing, but it was
quickly loaded onto the truck by a couple of soldiers in helmets who
asked him what he was doing. Dwyer knew this was bigger than
anything he ever wanted to see and got out of there right away,
losing himself amidst a group of personnel working around a pile of
The whole site was scattered with articles that Dwyer assumed had
fallen out of the craft when it hit. He could see the indentation in
the arroyo where it looked like the object embedded itself and
followed with his eyes the pattern of debris stretching out from the
small crater into the darkness beyond the floodlights. The soldiers
were crawling all over on their hands and knees with scraping
devices and carrying sacks or walking in straight lines waving metal
detectors in front of them.
They were sweeping the area clean, it
seemed to him, so that any curiosity seekers who floated out here
during the day would find nothing to reveal the identity of what had
been here. Dwyer reached down to pick up a patch of a dull gray
metallic cloth like material that seemed to shine up at him from the
sand. He slipped it into his fist and rolled it into a hall. Then he
released it and the metallic fabric snapped hack into shape without
any creases or folds. He thought no one was looking at him, so he
stuffed it into the pocket of his fire jacket to bring back to the
He would later show it to his young daughter, who forty-five years
later and long after the piece of metallic fabric itself had
disappeared into history, would describe it on television
documentaries to millions of people. But that night in July 1947, if
Dwyer thought he was invisible, he was wrong.
“Hey you, “ a sergeant wearing an MP armband bawled. “What the hell
are you doing out here?”
“I responded with the fire company, “ Dwyer said as innocently as
“Well, you get your civilian ass back on that truck and get it the
hell out of here, “ he ordered. “You take anything with you?”
“Not me, Sergeant, “ Dwyer said.
Then the MP grabbed him as if he were under arrest and hustled him
off to a major, who was shouting orders near the generator that was
powering the string of floodlights. He recognized him as Roswell
resident Jesse Marcel.
“Caught this fireman wandering around in the debris, sir, “ the
Marcel obviously recognized Dwyer, although the two weren’t friends,
and gave him what the fireman only remembered as an agonized look.
“You got to get out of here, “ he said. “And never tell anyone where
you were or what you saw. “
“I mean it, this is top security here, the kind of thing that could
get you put away, “ Marcel continued. “Whatever this is, don’t talk
about it, don’t say anything until somebody tells you what to say.
Now get your truck out of here before someone else sees you and
tries to lock the whole bunch of you up. Move!” He faced the
helmeted MP. “Sergeant, get him back on that fire truck and move it
Dwyer didn’t need any more invitations. He let the sergeant hustle
him along, put him back on the truck, and told his driver to bring
it back to the station. The MP sergeant came up to the driver’s side
window and looked up at the fireman behind the wheel.
“You’ve been ordered to evacuate this site, “ the MP told the
driver. “At once!”
The Roswell police unit had already made a U-turn on the sand and
was motioning for the truck to back up. The driver dropped the truck
into reverse, gently fed it gas as its wheels dug into the sand,
made his U-turn, and headed back for the firehouse in Roswell. The
Ford flatbed had already passed through the sleeping town in the
moments between darkness and light, the sound of its engines causing
no alarm or stir, the sight of a large tarpaulin covered object on
the back of an army vehicle rolling along the main street of Roswell
against the purple gray sky raising nobody’s eyebrows because it was
nothing out of the ordinary. But later, by the time Dwyer backed his
field truck into the station house, the sun was already up and the
first of the CMC transport trucks was just reaching the main gate at
Plumbing subcontractor Roy Danzer, who had worked through the night
at the base fitting pipe, knew something was up from the way the
trucks tore out of the compound through the darkness. He had just
walked out of the base hospital to grab a cigarette before going
back to work. That’s when he heard the commotion over at the main
gate. Danzer had cut his hand a few days earlier cutting pipe, and
the infirmary nurse wanted to keep checking the stitches to make
sure no infection was setting in. So Danzer took the opportunity to
get away from the job for a few minutes while the nurse looked over
her work and changed his bandage. Then, on his way back to the job,
he would grab a cup of coffee and take an unscheduled cigarette
break. But this morning, things would be very different.
The commotion he heard by the main gate had now turned into a
swirling throng of soldiers and base workers shoved aside by what
looked like a squad of MPs using their bodies as a wedge to force a
pathway through the crowd. There didn’t even seem to be an officer
giving orders, just a crowd of soldiers. Strange. Then the throng
headed right for the base hospital, right for the main entrance,
right for the very spot where Roy was standing.
Nobody moved him out of the way or told him to vacate the area. In
fact, no one even spoke to him. Roy just looked down as the line of
soldiers passed him, and there it was, strapped tightly to a
stretcher that two bearers were carrying into the base hospital
right through the main door. Roy looked at it; it looked at Roy, and
as their eyes met Roy knew in an instant that he was not looking
down at a human being. It was a creature from somewhere else.
pleading look on its face, occupying only a small frontal portion of
its huge watermelon sized skull, and the emotion of pain and
suffering that played itself behind Roy Danzer’s eyes and across his
brain while he stared down at the figure told Roy it was in its
final moments of life. It didn’t speak. It could barely move. But
Roy actually saw, or believed he saw, an expression cross over its
little circle of a face. And then the creature was gone, carried
into the hospital by the stretcher bearers, who shot him an ugly
glare as they passed. Roy took another drag on the cigarette butt
still in his hand.
“What the hell was that?” he asked no one in particular. Then he
felt like he’d been hit by the front four of the Notre Dame football
His head snapped back against the top of his spine as he went flying
forward into the arms of a couple of MPs, who slammed him against an
iron gate and kept him there until an officer - he thought it was a
captain - walked up and stuck his finger directly into Danzer’s
“Just who are you, mister?” the captain bellowed into Danzer’s car.
Even before Danzer could answer, two other officers walked up and
began demanding what authorization Danzer had to be on the base.
These guys weren’t kidding, Danzer thought to himself; they looked
ugly and were working themselves up into a serious lather. For a few
tense minutes, Roy Danzer thought he would never see his family
again; he was that scared. But then a major approached and broke
into the shouting.
“I know this guy, “ the major said. “He works here with the other
civilian contractors. He’s OK. “
“Sir, “ the captain sputtered, but the major - Danzer didn’t know
his name - took the captain by the arm right out of earshot. Danzer
could see them talking and watched as the red faced captain
gradually calmed down. Then the two returned to where the MPs were
holding Danzer against the wall.
“You saw nothing, you understand?” the captain said to Danzer, who
just nodded. “You’re not to tell anybody about this, not your
family, not your friends - nobody. You got that?”
“Yes, sir, “ Danzer said. He was truly afraid now.
“We’ll know if you talk; we’ll know who you talk to and all of you
will simply disappear. “
“Captain, “ the major broke in.
“Sir, this guy has no business here and if he talks I can’t
guarantee anything. “ The captain complained as if he were trying to
cover his ass to a superior who didn’t know as much as he did.
“So forget everything you saw, “ the major said directly to Danzer.
“And hightail it out of here before someone else sees you and wants
to make sure you stay silent. “
“Yes, SIR, “ Danzer just about shouted as he extricated himself from
the grip of the MPs on either side of him and broke for his pickup
truck on the other side of the base.
He didn’t even look back to see
the team of soldiers carrying the body bags of the remaining
creatures into the hospital where, before there were any other
briefings, the creatures were prepared for autopsy like bagged game
waiting to be dressed.
The rest of the story about that week has become the subject of
history. First, 509th base commander Bull Blanchard authorized the
release of the “flying saucer” story that was picked up by news
services and carried around the country. Then General Roger Ramey at
8th Army Air Force headquarters in Texas ordered Maj. Jesse Marcel
to go back before the press and retract the flying saucer story.
This time, Marcel was ordered to say that he’d made a mistake and
realized the debris had actually come from a weather balloon.
Swallowing a story he himself never believed, Jesse Marcel posed
with some faked debris from an actual balloon and confessed to an
error he never could have made, even on a bad day. It was a
confession that would haunt him the rest of his life until, decades
later and shortly before he died, he would retract his public story
and restate that he had actually retrieved an alien spacecraft that
night in the Roswell desert.
Meanwhile, in the days and weeks after the crash and retrieval, Army
Intelligence and CIC personnel fanned
out through Roswell and neighboring communities to suppress whatever
information they could. With ill-advised
threats of violence, actual physical intimidation, and, according to
some of the rumors, at least one homicide,
army officers bludgeoned the community into silence. Mac Brazel, one
of the civilians near whose property the
crash took place and one of the visitors to the site, was allegedly
threatened. He suddenly became silent about what he had seen in the
desert even after he had told friends and news people that he’d
retrieved pieces from a downed spacecraft.
Officers from the Chavez
County Sheriffs Department and other law enforcement agencies were
forced to comply with the army edict that the incident outside of
Roswell was a matter of national security and was not to be
discussed. “It never happened, “ the army decreed, and civilian
authorities willingly complied. Even the local Roswell radio station
news correspondents, John McBoyle from KSWS and Walt Whitmore Sr.
from KGFL, who’d conducted interviews with witnesses to the debris
field, were forced to submit to the official line that the army
imposed and never broadcast their reports.
For some of the civilians who claimed to have experienced
intimidation from the army officers who flooded into Roswell after
the crash, the trauma remained with them for the rest of their
lives. One was Dan Dwyer’s daughter, who was a young child in
July1947, and who endured the sight of a huge, helmeted army
officer, his expression obscured by sunglasses, looming over her in
her mother’s kitchen and telling her that if she didn’t forget what
she had been told by her father, she and the rest of her family
would simply disappear in the desert.
Sally who had played with the
metallic fabric her father had brought back to the firehouse that
morning and had heard his description of the little people carried
away on stretchers, quaked in terror as the officer finally got her
to admit that she had seen nothing, heard nothing, and handled
nothing. “It never happened, “ he hissed at her. “And there’s
nothing you will ever say about it for the rest of your life because
we will be there and we will know it, “ he repeated over and over
again, slapping a police baton into his palm with a loud crack at
Even today, tears form at the corners of her eyes as she
describes the scene and remembers the expression of her mother, who
had been told to leave the kitchen while the officer spoke to Sally.
It’s tough for a kid to see her parents so terrorized into silence
that they will deny the truth before their eyes.
Roy Danzer’s daughter, too, was frightened at the sight of her
father when he came home from the base that morning on July 5,1947.
He wouldn’t talk about what had gone on there, of course, even
though the town was abuzz with rumors that creatures from outer
space had invaded Roswell. Wasn’t it true that all the children in
town knew about it and there’d been stories about flying saucers in
newspapers for weeks? It was even on the radio. But Roy Danzer
wouldn’t say a word in front of his daughter. She heard her parents
talking through the closed door of her bedroom at nights and caught
snippets of conversations about little creatures and “they’ll kill
us all. “ But she buried these in a part of her memory she never
visited until her father, shortly before his death, told her what
really happened at the base that day in July when the convoy arrived
out of the desert.
Steve Arnold stayed in Roswell, finishing out his official
re-enlistment with the army and, without his direct knowledge,
remaining apart of my own team right through the 1960s. Some say he
works for the government still, carrying out a job that fell to him
right out of the New Mexico skies, pumping out disinformation from
the army or the CIA or whomever, perpetuating a camouflage story
that, fifty years later, has taken on a life of its own and goes
forward, like a tale out of a Dickens novel, simply on inertia. You
can see Steve today walking around Roswell, visiting old friends
from his army days, giving interviews on television to the news
crews that periodically pay visits to the folks at Roswell who want
to talk about those days in the summer of 1947.
As for the debris retrieved out of the desert that July, it had
another destiny. Shipped to Fort Bliss, Texas, headquarters of the
8th Army Air Force, and summarily analyzed for what it was and what
it might contain, all of it was transferred to the control of the
military. As quickly as it arrived, some of the debris was flown to
Ohio, where it was put under lock and key at Wright Airfield - later
Wright - Patterson. The rest of it was loaded onto trucks and sent
up to a rest stop at Fort Riley in Kansas. The 509th returned to its
daily routine, Jesse Marcel went back to work as if he’d never held
the wreckage from the strange craft in his own hands, and the
contractors returned to their work on the pipes and doors and walls
at the base just as if nothing had ever arrived there from the
By the time the first week of July 1947 was over, the crash outside
of Roswell might as well have never taken place. Like the night that
engulfs you as you drive through the expanse of desert and chaparral
toward Roswell, so the night of silence engulfed the story of
Roswell itself for over thirty years.
These are the stories as I heard them, as people later told them to
me. I wasn’t there at Roswell that night. I didn’t see these events
for myself. I only heard them years later when the task fell to me
to make something out of all this. But the debris from the crash of
the object that was either caused by lightning or by our targeting
radar, sonic say, and fell out of the sky that night was on its way
to a collision course with my life.
Our paths would cross officially
at the Pentagon in the 1960s even though, for a very brief moment in
1947, when I was a young major at Fort Riley, fresh from the glory
of victory in Europe, I would see something that I would tuck away
in my memory and hope against hope I would never see again for the
rest of my life.