On this day in history, June 24, 1997, the U.S. Air Force released a 232-page report titled “The Roswell Report: Case Closed,” about a mysterious incident near Roswell, New Mexico, that some believe was a UFO crash-landing on Earth.
The report was the second part of the government’s official disclosure about what was found in rural New Mexico in the 1940s. Back in 1994, the government published, “The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert.”
“The ‘Roswell Incident’ has assumed a central place in American folklore since the events of the 1940s in a remote area of New Mexico,” noted the foreword of the 1997 report, written by Secretary of the Air Force Sheila A. Widnall.
“Because the Air Force was a major player in those events, we have played a key role in executing the General Accounting Office’s tasking to uncover all records regarding that incident,” she added.
“Our objective throughout this inquiry has been simple and consistent: to find all the facts and bring them to light. If documents were classified, declassify them; where they were dispersed, bring them into a single source for public review,” said Widnall.
With the publication of “The Roswell Report: Case Closed,” Widnall believed that “we have reached our goal of a complete and open explanation of the events that occurred in the Southwest many years ago.”
The details are as follows: On June 14, 1947, a rancher named W.W. (“Mac”) Brazel made an unusual discovery on his ranch, about 80 miles northwest of Roswell.
Brazel described the scene as “a large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, and rather tough paper, and sticks.“
Not knowing what to do with this finding, he left it alone for about two weeks, notes the Smithsonian Magazine.
On July 4, Brazel collected all the debris he could find and three days later, he brought it down to the sheriff of Roswell.
Sheriff George Wilcox had no idea what Brazel had come across, so he in turn reached out to Colonel “Butch” Blanchard, the commander of the Roswell Army Airfield’s (RAAF) 509th Composite Group, which was located near the city.
Blanchard, too, had no idea what the strange discovery might be, so he contacted General Roger W. Ramey, his superior.
Ramey was a commander of the 8th Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas, nearly 500 miles away from Roswell, said the Smithsonian.
In addition to Ramey, Blanchard sought the assistance of Major Jesse Marcel, an intelligence officer, said the Smithsonian. Marcel, Brazel and Wilcox returned to Brazel’s ranch to investigate further.
“As they tried to ascertain what the materials were, Marcel chose to make a public statement. On July 8, Marcel’s comments ran in the local afternoon newspaper, the Roswell Daily Record, alongside a headline stating, ‘RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell,'” said the Smithsonian.
“The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment Group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today that the field has come into the possession of a Flying Saucer,” the story claimed.
The revelation that the RAAF had an extraterrestrial object in its possession set off a bit of a frenzy.
“Apparently, it was better from the Air Force’s perspective that there was a crashed ‘alien’ spacecraft out there than to tell the truth,” Roger Lanius, former curator of Space History at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, told Smithsonian Magazine.
“A flying saucer was easier to admit than Project Mogul,” he said, referring to the then-classified project that operated from 1947-1949.
“And with that, we were off to the races.”
The following day, the military made a valiant albeit fruitless effort to walk back the flying saucer story, and the Roswell Daily Record published a story headlined, “Army Debunks Roswell Flying Disc as World Simmers with Excitement.”
The Army claimed the debris found on Brazel’s ranch was a high-altitude weather balloon, said the Smithsonian.
Eventually, it was revealed that the strange wreckage was actually part of Project Mogul, noted the Smithsonian.
“In this classified program, the U.S. government launched high-altitude balloons into the ionosphere, hoping to monitor Russian nuclear tests,” the same source said.
One of those balloons crashed on Brazel’s ranch.
Roswell, meanwhile, has fully embraced the UFO craze.
The city of 48,000 features an alien on its official seal, while a “Welcome to Roswell” sign erected in 2017 features a cow being abducted by a flying saucer, notes the website Roadside America.
The tourism website “See Roswell,” operated by the city, sells “official merchandise” featuring flying saucers and other extraterrestrial motifs.
UFO enthusiasts gather en masse in Roswell each July for the annual “UFO Festival,” and the city is home to the International UFO Museum & Research Center, notes its website.