Will enthralled and horrified me. While his complete authenticity was obvious, I nevertheless felt that I had to do some basic research.
He claimed that the story had begun in Roswell, New Mexico, in July of 1947. He named names, dates, places, showed me news clippings and memoranda.
Fine, I would see for myself. I took a week off (I was still being fed by the Express) and got a super-saver to Albuquerque, rented a Vega and drove the hundred-odd miles south to Roswell.
It took me about ten minutes to fall in love with the town. Roswell is American perfect, a middle-sized city at peace with itself. It’s an agricultural community with a smattering of light industry. The streets mix fifties modern with older architecture. Everywhere I went—the motel, the radio and television stations, the local newspaper—I was struck by the fact that this place was populated by decent people. Honest people.
At the Roswell Daily Record they were frank about the story. Everybody in town knew about it. The fact that something real had happened in July of 1947 and been covered up turned out to be an open secret across most of southern New Mexico.
Will tells me that I won’t feel so much anger when I get older, but I felt anger now, interviewing people, walking the site of the crash near Maricopa, viewing the ruins of the old ranch on which the disk fell.
I was choked with bitterness. I’d dismissed the whole UFO question with a laugh and I’d been a dupe!
My ego was involved and I thought I’d never get over hating Will.
One of the most annoying things about him is how wise he is. He knew that I wouldn’t always despise him.
I wish I could comfort that old man somehow, but he is beyond words, beyond touch, beyond everything.
South of Roswell stand the empty remains of the Roswell Army Air Field, now being transformed into an industrial park.
I walked that crooked tarmac on a warm spring day, and let the ghosts of the past rise up around me. There was no feeling of elegy or remembrance. I was angry, and the ghosts were angry, too.
At least two of those ghosts, and possibly a third, were not human. I wondered if they looked back also, and if they did not remember the night that they arrived, and died.
Through the ten o’clock dark they came, silent and slow, watching the streets of Roswell unfold below them. More carefully they were watching the flight line, counting the planes, counting the bombs.
At that moment the 509th Strategic Bomber Wing stationed at Roswell was the only atomic bomber force in the world.
Perhaps they came to warn us, or perhaps theirs was a more subtle mission. But Roswell could not have been chosen by accident. Will explained to me that they have a definite tendency to appear right in the middle of our most sensitive, most dangerous, most heavily guarded military installations.
This was one of the things that caused the hostilities. “Be as little children,” Will says. Indeed, innocence does not know secrets and it does not know fear. But mankind is not the only earthly creation that fears death. Everything fears it. And when there is resurrection every living thing will be delivered, from the crawlers in the mud to the high bishops, and fear will be swept from the earth forever.
When they came, everything was afraid.
Birds awoke as they passed over, and fluttered nervously. Coons and bobcats screamed, opossums hissed. Babies shrieked in the night.
When they came it was midnight in Washington. Will Stone was a young man then, struggling to create a postwar career for himself in the Central Intelligence Group, soon to become the C.I.A. He knew nothing of what was happening in distant New Mexico.
His memory of what he was doing that night is nevertheless vivid. This shouldn’t be surprising; we tend to recall exactly where we were at moments of great crisis.
A familiar wartime question: “What were you doing when you heard about Pearl Harbor?” Will Stone remembered: he was standing in a department store looking at some ties. “Where were you when the Japs surrendered?” He was drunk in Algiers.
What was he doing on the night of July 2, 1947?
He was lying in bed in his apartment worrying about the fact that he was having political problems at the office. Instead of working on the Russian desk he was off in a backwater, helping the Algerians put an end to French colonialism.
Betty and Sam White were sitting on their porch in Roswell sipping lemonade and watching the sky. It was a beautiful night, with storms off to the west and stars overhead.
I know just what they said, just how they acted. I’ve read their files—and all the other files that Will has—many times over.
I’ve tried and tried to see where Will and the others went wrong, to understand if there is anything in God’s world that might help us now.
“What’s that,” Sam asked his wife back on that lost night.
“I’m not real sure,” she replied in her twangy voice.
“I’m gonna call the sheriff.” He got up from his chair with a creak of porch boards and a grunt.
The object was round and brightly lit—glowing, in fact. It made no sound as it swept northwestward across Roswell.
Beneath its thin blue light people went about their business. Except for the Whites, nobody noticed a thing.
At the Army Air Field the radar operators did not glance up from their glowing screens. The lookout on the tower was facing the other way, and never broke the imaginary monologue he was delivering to Dorothy Lamour.
Bob Ungar, on his ranch seventy miles northwest of Roswell, watched the storms with a critical and uneasy eye. He was totally unaware of what was approaching from the direction of town.
Bob’s concern was the damned clouds.
They could drop hail as big as a sheep’s eye. Hail like that could knot a man’s skull or batter his animals until they were crazy. He’d also found his share of sheep braised by lightning, lying stiff in the scrub.
The worst part was the way they’d bunch up on the fences during a bad storm, frightened by the thunder and trying to shelter from the rain. You’d find them in heaps, and the ones at the bottom would be smothered.
Bob pitied the poor, dumb things. I know he did, because I know exactly what kind of a man he was. I admire him unabashedly.
He died in the sixties, old and dried to straw by the desert.
Walking the path of Will Stone I spoke to Bob’s wife, Ellie, now a very old woman. She lives in an adobe cottage—really little more than a hut. Of course she’s been wracked by time, but there is within her a light such as you don’t often see. I spoke to her of her husband, and their old house that is in ruins now, and a long time ago.
I can imagine Bob standing on his back porch on that night, squinting into the dark west.
A long, cool gust swirled out of the dark. The air grew eerie. The last five nights he’d saddled up his horse, Sadie, and gone out to help the sheep. It hadn’t made a lick of difference. They’d gotten themselves killed anyway.
You’d think sheep had been going through thunderstorms for a long time. But this bunch, they got all worked up over a little sheet lightning, forget the thunder and wind and the hail.
He heard the sheep faintly, far off now, moaning and bleating.
Meanwhile the glowing object left the outskirts of Roswell and the Whites lost it in the darkness.
Cats that had leaped into bookshelves looked out. Dogs that had run under houses scrambled back to their masters’ sides. Babies that had been screaming began to sniffle and coo. Children sighed in their beds, their half-formed nightmares subsiding.
Lightning flared across the west, and the Ungars’ radio crackled. “… tornado five miles south of Caprock…” Then the static returned.
“Oh, Lord,” Bob said.
“That’s way away from here.” Ellie reached toward him, then withdrew her hand.
“A hundred miles isn’t nothin’, not s’far as these storms are concerned.”
“We’ll get through,” she said.
“I moved the sheep up that draw. They got a little shelter in there.”
“I worry about the water comin’ down there.”
“Don’t you worry now.”
Some dance music came out of the radio. Fox-trot music.
“Where is your gingham dress?”
“In the cedar chest.”
“Will you put it on for me?”
She smiled the strong, accepting smile that he loved, and went into their bedroom. When she returned she was wearing the dress. She swayed to the music. He took his work-thin wife in his arms, and danced with her as the lightning flashes flickered.
“Oh, Lordy,” she said, “do you remember the night we decided to get married? The conga line?”
How they had danced! “Old Joe really got that conga goin’.”
“Bobby, I think that was the happiest dance of my life.”
He closed his eyes and bent his head to her woman-smelling hair, and saw the black window float past.
At that moment there was a crack of thunder and the rising roar of wind. The radio was drowned out. He turned it off; no use in wasting the battery.
The wind came sweeping around the house, shaking the boards, screaming in the eaves, bringing with it the perfume of the range, sweet flowers, sage, dust. He imagined his animals out there in the storm. They’d be milling, nervous, ready to stampede all the way to the wire if lightning struck nearby.
He wondered how it could help but strike them. Looking at it, he realized that he’d never seen another storm quite like it, not in all of his years on this New Mexico land.
He doused the lamp. “Ellie, come look.”
They went out onto the porch together. The storm was a huge, glowing wall of clouds. It seemed to ride on a forest of lightning bolts. “I’ve never seen so much lightning,” Ellie said.
“If it comes over the house—”
“Look at the way they strike.”
“Yeah. ‘Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.’ So much for that idea.” He turned away. “God help the small rancher,” he said bitterly.
They went to their bedroom. He took off his clothes and sat on the bed rolling a last cigarette. They lay back together, sharing drags. After a while she put her hand on his chest.
And then they slept.
His father came to him, his face lit as if by the light of a lantern. Astonished, he stared. He was aware that this was a dream, but amazed at how real it was. There was Dad, his lean, hard features, his dark eyes, his grim-set mouth. “Dad,” Bob said. “Dad!” His father didn’t say anything, but Bob felt like some kind of a warning had been given. He woke up feeling very afraid. A lot of time had passed; he’d been asleep for hours. Ellie beside him was snoring.
Long thoughts started whispering through his mind. He wondered why he lived like this. His poor ranch couldn’t last. But then what the hell would happen to him? He worked this place. “I’m a sheepman.” He could say those honorable and proud words.
He noticed, through his dark reverie, that there was an awful lot of light in the room. He opened his eyes, thinking for an instant that he’d overslept and it was daylight.
The room was full of soft, blue light. He sat up. A fire? There was nothing to burn. They had a wood cookstove but it was just embers now. And the lanterns were out. His nostrils dilated, but he smelled no smoke.
Not the barn! He vaulted out of bed, burst through the house and into the restless night.
The barn was fine, but there was some kind of lightning in the sky the likes of which he had never seen before. It looked like a huge star floating around below the clouds. It was so big and so close that he stifled a shout of surprise and jerked back against the screen door.
He stared up. The thing was sliding and floating in the air, and it was hissing. A sort of shock went through him. He was all covered with tingling. His heart started thundering.
It must be a burning plane. Oh, Lord, coming down on the house! It got closer and closer, practically blinding him with its light.
“Ellie, God, Ellie!”
There was an answering murmur from the house.
The thing was hissing and buzzing, and there was a buzzing in the middle of his head. He grabbed his temples.
High-pitched children’s screams mixed with the buzzing, and then Ellie came urging the kids along, her own voice all shaky.
He went toward her, turning his back on the thing, which was now almost on top of him. As he ran toward them the buzzing got so loud that he almost couldn’t bear it. The world seemed to go round and round and he felt himself falling. For a second it seemed as if he was floating upward, but then he hit the ground with a thud.
Ellie and the children were already out the back door. The thing went buzzing and skipping and jerking through the air above them. Then it was skimming the hill, then it was a glow behind the hill.
He heard the most god-awful sound he had ever heard in his life: an explosion to beat all. It was a huge clap of a sound, it winded him, it shook the back windows right out of their frames, it made Sadie scream in the barn and the chickens start squawking in the coop. Ellie and the kids were screaming, and Bob heard his own voice too, rising against the echoes of the blast.
And then, quite suddenly, there was silence. And the night returned.
And that’s how it began, pretty much. In the secrecy of that late hour, thus did our innocence perish.
From the Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1947:
ROSWELL HARDWARE MAN AND WIFE REPORT DISK SEEN
Mr. and Mrs. Sam White apparently were the only persons in Roswell who have seen what they thought was a flying disk.
They were sitting on their porch at 105 North Foster last Wednesday night at about ten minutes before ten o’clock when a large glowing object zoomed out of the sky from the southeast, going in a northwesterly direction at a high rate of speed.
White called Mrs. White’s attention to it and both ran down into the yard to watch. It was in sight less than a minute, perhaps forty or fifty seconds, White estimated.
White said that it appeared to him to be about 1,500 feet high and going fast. He estimated between 400 and 500 miles per hour.
In appearance it looked oval in shape like two inverted saucers faced mouth to mouth, or two old-type washbowls placed together in the same fashion. The entire body glowed as though light were showing through from inside, though not like it would be if a light were merely underneath.
From where he stood White said that the object looked to be about 15 feet in size and making allowance for the distance it was from town he figured that it must have been 15 or 20 feet in diameter, though this was just a guess.
The object came into view from the southeast and disappeared over the treetops in the general vicinity of Six-Mile Hill.
White, who is one of the most respected and reliable citizens in town, kept the story to himself hoping that someone else would come out and tell about having seen one, but finally today decided that he would go ahead and tell about seeing it.
Copyright © 1989 by Wilson & Neff, Inc.
Author’s note copyright © 2011 by Walker & Collier, Inc.