"All my information came from Colonel Blanchard," Haut reiterated.
"When Blanchard talked to you about what to say, did he use the words `flying saucer?"' I asked. "Did he seem to be frightened?"
"I've got an experience coming up in the latter part of March," Haut said by way of reply. "They're going to hypnotize me."
"They" turn out to be Randle and Schmitt--with help from the Center for UFO Studies, eager to plumb Haut's memory on the chance that anything else of note actually occurred.
"I do not remember the minute details," Haut told me. "I feel that I've had a pretty full life, and how the colonel passed that information on to me I cannot honestly tell you. I don't know whether he called me on the phone and said, `Haut, I want you to put out a press release and hand deliver it to the local news media. Here's what I want in it.'
"Or," Haut continued, "the adjutant might have called and said, `Haut, the old man's got a press release he wants you to pick up and take it around town."'
When I pressed Haut about the authorship of the release, he answered frankly: "I cannot honestly remember whether I wrote it, whether he had given me the information and told me `This is what I want in it.' It was not that big a production at that time, in my mind."
I couldn't believe that. Wouldn't a flying saucer have been a pretty spectacular find?
"Well, there were quite a few reports of flying saucers at that time," Haut reminded me. "I had a multitude of hats I wore. I had all kinds of things to do. I asked my wife, when all this [the renewed interest in Roswell in the mid 1980s] started, `Do you remember me coming home and saying anything about it?"'
Her reply, he recalled, was simply no.
Haut's spin on the events seems to take the wind out of the cover-up theory. In and around Roswell, however, people now believe in the cover-up conspiracy as much as any other part of the incident, sometimes mentioning "the government" and "the military" with rolling eyes and in hushed tones, as though they were the KGB. The clerk at the hotel where I stayed while in Roswell gave voice to this comparison: "We talk about the Russians," she said. "People should know the things that go on in our own country."
In books and on television specials, when the usual Roswell suspects are rounded up and trotted out, the likes of Lydia Sleppy and Frankie Rowe recite the threats they received from the FBI and the military police. Sleppy was trying to send a teletyped news report from the local radio station when the bureau interrupted her transmission and signaled her not to complete it. She obeyed and never complained till Friedman found her years later. Rowe tells how her father had been summoned to the crash site with other members of the Roswell Fire Department, and later told her he saw two body bags and one live "very small being" near the wreckage of some kind of flying craft. She subsequently heard rumors that the being was being taken to the base hospital, and that it walked in on its own. She couldn't divulge any of this, however, she told Randle and Schmitt, because "The Air Force or the Army or the military came up to our house and told us we could never talk about this. As far as we were concerned, the whole incident never happened."
These were two of the "witnesses" the Air Force and I chose not to interview. The reason: Neither one had seen anything firsthand. In the annals of Roswell research, however, a person who has heard a rumor about the incident may attain the status of "witness."
A deft step in the cover-up purportedly occurred at Fort Worth Army Field, soon after Marcel landed there on July 8. According to Randle and Schmitt, Marcel spread out the debris on the floor of General Ramey's office, the better to see it all. Then Marcel and Ramey left the room briefly. By the time they reentered, accompanied by press photographers, the strange material had disappeared. In its place was a shredded weather balloon. Ramey, who has been accused of ordering this quick switch, summoned his weather officer, Irving Newton, to identify the weather balloon as a weather balloon. Then Ramey fielded all the reporters' questions so that Marcel didn't get to say a word.
In a telephone interview with Newton, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, General Ramey's weatherman assured me that nobody had pulled a fast one on Marcel.
"I remember Marcel chased me all around that room," Newton said. "He kept saying things like, `Look at how tough the metal is,' `Look at the strange markings on it.' He wouldn't have made such a big effort to convince me the thing was extraterrestrial if he thought we were looking at a weather balloon."
"But you knew it was a weather balloon with a radar wind target--a Rawin--no question?" I asked.
"I was adamant," Newton concurred. "I said I'd eat it with salt or pepper if it wasn't a Rawin."
Newton added that Marcel should never have been faulted for failing to recognize the balloon and its attachments, since he would not have come in contact with meteorological apparatus.
"There was nothing to it," Newton concluded of the debris. "I went back to work and forgot about it."
Something of a small cover-up seems to have taken place, however, sanctioned by the Air Force, in order to disguise the military purpose of the balloon.
On July 10, 1947, the day after the "emptying" of the Roswell saucer, a full explanation of the "flying disc" appeared in the Alamogordo News. It described a press briefing that had helped reporters understand what all the fuss was about in Roswell. The story included an elaborate description, plus photo, of the balloon-borne corner radar reflector that the Army believed had crashed on the sheep ranch. Elements of the description published in this article matched key points in the accounts of both Marcel and the rancher Brazel. To wit: The balloons trailed "paper triangles covered with tinfoil and held rigidly by small wooden strips."
Marcel had said the longest pieces of woodlike material were about three or four feet. The article said, "These corner reflectors...are about 48 inches across." Marcel had found something porous on the debris field, and everything lightweight. "It is very light and is towed by a synthetic rubber balloon made of neoprene," the article offered.
Such devices were being launched at Alamogordo and all over the nation, the article continued, for radar target practice. Thus the article gave the impression that the balloons were as common as kites.
In reality, however, the particular balloon equipment the Air Force now says landed at Roswell as part of the top-secret Project Mogul was not at all common. It was a train of 23 meteorological balloons in two 650-foot-high strings that were, in essence, a forerunner of today's spy satellites. It belonged to an experimental effort to monitor nuclear bomb tests from the air. Everything about Project Mogul, the Air Force said in its recent report, was classified top secret with the highest priority--Priority 1A, on a par with the ultimate hush-hushedness of the Manhattan Project. And although Project Mogul ceased in 1950, after just four years of operation, it retained its top-secret status until the early 1970s. Even its name was a secret.
"I didn't know till three years ago it was called Mogul," confessed Charles B. Moore, professor emeritus of atmospheric physics at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, who served in the New York University part of the project as its engineer. Whatever the name of the project, its raison d'etre, according to Moore, was the "tremendous concern" on the part of the United States that the Soviets were developing nuclear weapons for use against us, much like the ones that had ended the war with Japan in just eight days. Mindful of that danger, scientists in the Long Range Detection Program (eventually known as Project Mogul), tried to eavesdrop on the world for the telltale sounds of clandestine bomb tests.
Moore believes that both Blanchard and Ramey were ignorant of the program when they made their public comments about the weather balloon--although they were probably informed after the fact. For this reason, Moore said, neither one of them should be accused of participation in a cover-up.
"If you see a bus and you say it's a bus," Moore explained to me, "it's still a bus--even if it's being used to haul concrete."
The particular piece of Project Mogul that sparked the Roswell Incident, Moore thinks, was a test flight launched from Alamogordo on June 4, 1947. History of the project goes like this: The NYU group had tried to monitor an explosion at Helgoland, an island off the German coast, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But when high winds prevented the launch of the monitoring balloon from Bethlehem, the Army Air Force scientists moved the operation to Alamogordo where they planned to track the balloons using the radar. To aid in the tracking, the NYU group took with them some special radar targets that had never been used before in New Mexico. One of the interesting features of these new targets is that they were reinforced with Scotch tape on which a pinkish-purple abstract flower design had been printed. Reportedly, the first targets with the new design had failed when they were flight-tested near the end of WWII, so a quick fix was devised for the later targets, using the only tape immediately available.
The first balloon train launched from Alamogordo was NYU Flight #4. Apparently, according to radar signals, it was lost over the town of Arabela, New Mexico, about 70 miles northeast of Alamogordo. Flight #5, launched on June 5, 1947, was tracked as well. Military records show that this flight ascended to 60,000 feet and then landed 26 miles east of Roswell.
The runic designs on the tape seem to answer the longstanding question about the pastel-colored markings on the original debris--Marcel's hieroglyphics, which had been described by other witnesses as "Chinese writing," "figures," "numbers in a column that didn't look like the numbers we use at all," and "different geometric shapes, leaves, and circles."
Credit for first tying the latter-day Roswell Incident to Project Mogul goes to independent researcher Robert Todd of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Todd, originally a believer in UFOs, has abandoned 20 years' work as a UFOlogist in the wake of his discovery.
"I'm satisfied with Mogul as the solution," Todd told me. "I don't think Jesse Marcel had ever seen a radar target."
The Air Force, giving first credit where it's due to Todd, also acknowledges that Glenn Dennis confidante Karl Pflock, much to his credit as a researcher, independently came to the same Mogul-Roswell conclusion. Let the flowered tape fall where it may, Pflock still thinks Glenn Dennis is the real glue holding the incident together. Because in Pflock's scenario, the UFO that crashed and killed its alien crew may have collided with the ill-fated Mogul balloon--or went out of control while trying to avoid a collision.
"Whatever the exact circumstances," Pflock concludes in his report, "an encounter between some sort of crewed vehicle and one of Charlie Moore's unwieldy monsters may have brought both down."
In other words, Mogul is not enough to account for the full-blown Roswell Incident. Thus the Air Force report, and the Times page-one story that announced it, have already been dismissed out of hand as "garbage" (Friedman's word) by aficionados of Roswell.
"I just have one comment about it," said Walter Haut, repeating to me what he'd already told the Times: "All they've done is given us a new balloon."
But I had a higher opinion of the Air Force investigation. It was clearly written and internally consistent. And when I questioned Lieutenant James McAndrew, the historian whose research supports the findings, he was more forthcoming than I could have hoped, and had more knowledge at his military fingertips than in all the books by Friedman, Randle, and Schmitt.
"About Frank Kaufmann," McAndrew interjected as politely as he could. "He has no records at St. Louis." McAndrew was referring to the National Personnel Records Center, the repository of all past and present military personnel records (the place where OMNI ultimately tracked down the five "missing" Roswell nurses). If Kaufmann wasn't on file there, then either his records had been destroyed in a fire that ravaged the place 22 years ago--or he never really served in the Army. "The fact is," Kaufmann declares, "I did serve and was honorably discharged in October of 1945."
It didn't matter to me any more whether Kaufmann had ever worn a uniform. All I wanted was to see his alleged crash site out near the new Trans-Western natural gas pipeline. Kaufmann had warned me I'd never find it myself, and never make it without four-wheel drive. All I had was an economy-class rental car and a broken tape recorder. So I was very happy to discover a flyer on the bulletin board in my motel, announcing that the impact site near Roswell, "Home of the UFO Incident of 1947," was available for viewing. The pink paper showed a picture of a flying saucer with a phone number to call for information and reservations.
I met Herbert ("Hub") Corn the next morning, as arranged, at a mile marker on the highway leading north out of Roswell. Corn, a cordial young sheep rancher driving a workhorse pickup truck with two herding dogs in its bay, had agreed to chauffeur me to the spot for $15. He asked me to sign a release, drawn up for him by a lawyer, agreeing that I would not hold him responsible for injuries I might incur from, among other things, "snakes, scorpions, cactus, lizards, and other wild animals" on the Hub Corn Ranch or crash site.
"You're joking about the scorpions, right?" I asked him.
"They're not a problem this time of year," Hub replied, smiling. "And my dogs'll take care of the rattlesnakes."
As we bumped slowly over the not-quite-road to the site, Hub told me he hadn't realized he owned the spot where the saucer had landed until he met Randle and Schmitt, who took Kaufmann's word that this must be the place. He seemed interested but removed from the event. It had happened long before he was even born. And he struck me as too savvy a rancher, too close to his land, to think that a tourist attraction--even one of this magnitude--would ever replace his real work of raising lambs for market and shearing sheep of their wool. Still, he's been improving the road in anticipation of the tour buses that will no doubt come this summer, especially during the first week of July, which Roswell Mayor Tom Jennings has proclaimed "UFO Awareness Week." In another two years, when the fiftieth anniversary of the Roswell Incident rolls around, who knows what the traffic will bear?
Hub stopped on a flat stretch, as close as he could get to the hill where "it" had happened. Unlike the great mesas that poke their flat heads far above the desert floor, this elevation was not at all outstanding. It looked too low to get in any low-flying aircraft's way, so far as I could tell, although it might break the fall of a crashing one.
We walked through the chayote and prickly pear, talking about sheep prices and flying saucers, until we reached the dried-out stream bed at the foot of the hill.
"What we really need is some rain," said Hub.
I stared up and down Roswell's field of dreams. I let myself imagine the storied scene in all its glory. With pleasure, I found that in that spot, the incident raised a few goosebumps on my flesh, sent a shiver or two down my spine. Predictably, I didn't see anything to set this spit of sand apart from the rest of the desert--no vestige of wreckage, no markers where the bodies might have lain or the MPs could have thrown up their barricades. Yet, I felt happy and somehow privileged to be there, close to the heart of the mystery. "Even if this didn't happen," I remembered an author saying in the introduction to a novel, "it's true anyway."