Summary: Formerly secret files finally reveal the truth about the world's most famous UFO incident.
Knowing that old military records often contain startling revelations, we were eager to see what surprises awaited us in the latest disclosure from the Roswell files. For decades, UFO researchers had clamored for the National Archives to come clean about a "flying disc" that supposedly crashed during the Fourth of July weekend in 1947. The Army started the story when it used the term in a press release about a crash that had occurred north of Roswell, N.M. At the time, the sleepy town had the distinction of being home to the only atomic bomber unit (at Roswell Army Airfield) in the world. By the end of that holiday weekend, the Army had retracted its original story, claiming it had been a mistake. The debris that ranch manager Mac Brazel had found on the J.B. Foster Ranch was simply the remains of a weather balloon. The press reported the revised version of events, and the story promptly died.
Government paperwork, however, is immortal. Once a Roswell file was created it became a collection bin for all sorts of UFO-related material. Eventually, the collection moved to a climate-controlled archive in College Park, Md., about a half-hour drive east of Washington, D.C. And there the files would have remained undisturbed were it not for a law that forces the government to periodically review a document's security classification.
During the 1990s, the time limits on keeping Cold War-era records began to expire. Journalists had come to appreciate that these automatically declassified files often contained spectacular information. Declassified records showed how the Atomic Energy Commission intentionally released radiation from its reactors in Hanford, Wash., on unsuspecting civilians in that area. Other disclosures described how doctors working for the federal government were permitted to conduct ghoulish medical experiments on women, children and prisoners. Buoyed by these earlier disclosures, UFO researchers had good reason to hope the 11 boxes of newly opened Roswell files might contain a similar smoking gun.
POPULAR MECHANICS was interested too. In 100 years of covering military affairs, our editors had come to realize that everything the government touches creates a paper trail. If something extraordinary had happened at the Roswell Army Airfield in July 1947, evidence would turn up in the paperwork compiled by sergeants and officers. And it was that possibility that lured us to Maryland. If aliens had landed, the soldiers who chased them would have left a paper trail, too.
As we had hoped, we found the original government records. But first we had to do some digging. Most of the boxes were filled with newspaper and magazine clippings about flying saucers, old books, and government UFO reports that were made public decades ago. There were Betamax videotapes about UFOs. We even found the remains of the infamous balloon reflector, which UFO buffs claim the government planted at the crash site in place of the pieces of the flying disc. These pieces, they say, were taken to an undisclosed military base.
Then, amid the clutter, in Box 1, we found what we were after. It was a seemingly unimportant document titled "Morning Reports, July 1947." This was essentially a log of the day-to-day activity at the base. In much the same way that a police blotter would provide evidence of a bank robbery, the Morning Reports would provide unambiguous evidence of unusual military activity.
As we worked through the Morning Reports line by line, we came to a simple realization: Absolutely nothing extraordinary had happened at Roswell that Fourth of July weekend. There was no indication of an emergency, no mention of a deployment of rescue and firefighting crews, as was the case with other crashes. That was one mystery solved.
For years, UFO researchers had claimed that enlisted men and officers involved in the disc recovery operation were transferred to other bases to ensure their silence. Sure enough, the transfers took place. The paperwork explained why. Several months earlier, in a sweeping postwar military reorganization, Army fliers were systematically transferred to the newly created U.S. Air Force. The men had not been transferred. They had merely changed uniforms. Another mystery solved.
We left the National Archives and Records Administration complex in College Park more confused than enlightened. Surely there was more to the story. As the old saying goes: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." So with this thought in mind we decided to call Frank Kaufmann, the man at the center of the Roswell episode.
Kaufmann was less than the picture of health when we interviewed him for our July 1997 cover story about the 50th anniversary of Roswell. A respected member of the Roswell business community, Kaufmann's name had been tied to the story from the very beginning. We were saddened to learn he had died in February 2001.
Kaufmann's credibility arose from his willingness to show journalists and book authors a copy of his Separation Qualification Record, which supported his claim that he was an intelligence officer stationed at Roswell in July 1947. After Kaufmann's death, his widow gave UFO researchers access to her husband's papers. One of those researchers was Mark Rodeghier, scientific director of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies. In fall 2002, Rodeghier published his findings in the center's journal: "To put it quite plainly, Frank Kaufmann created an altered version of an official document to present a false version of his military career consistent with his claims about his involvement with the events at Roswell. His supposed work in intelligence was used to explain how he came to be so knowledgeable about what crashed at Roswell and the subsequent military cover-up."
Stanton Friedman, a physicist and author of several books on Roswell, tells POPULAR MECHANICS he was not surprised that Kaufmann had altered his service record. "He got out of the service in 1945. He was a civilian employee doing the same job, as a clerk."
Friedman says his suspicions were raised during a 1999 meeting with Kaufmann and several other researchers. He says he asked Kaufmann pointed questions about his working relationship with Maj. Jesse Marcel, who was an intelligence officer at the Roswell base in '47, and Col. William Blanchard, the base commanding officer at that time.
"Kaufmann knew he was dying," Friedman says, explaining why he trusted the answers he received. "I asked Kaufmann, 'Did you take Marcel to the [crash] site?' He said 'no.' I asked him, 'Did you take Blanchard to the site?' He said 'no.'"
Despite the disappointing document disclosure by the National Archives and the discovery that Kaufmann had altered his military records, Friedman says it is premature to close the books on Roswell. He believes convincing evidence of an alien landing exists but that it has yet to be disclosed. And he says he knows exactly where to find it--in vaults at the National Reconnaissance Office and the Central Intelligence Agency.