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 identify.


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 testing sites.

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 spectacle from 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 were gone.


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 thought 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 years earlier.

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 nevertheless.


He’d never seen anything like that before and thought that maybe this was a weapon the Russians or somebody else had developed.

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 immediately.

“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.


As he 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 morning.

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 stared.

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 debris.

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 firehouse.

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 possible.
“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 sergeant reported. 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. “

Dwyer nodded.

“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 out. “

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 the 509th.

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.


The 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 team.

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 face.

“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 bribed and 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 every word.


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 desert.

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.

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