The "Disc" Hits the Fan
After the press release went out over the wire, all witnesses and contemporary news stories agree that all hell broke loose The phone lines into Roswell were jammed with calls from reporters and news agencies clamoring for more details. The Roswell "flying disc" was the biggest news story of the day. (see press accounts section)
Major Marcel possibly left very soon after the press release on his flight to Fort Worth. Haut recalled having to stay behind and answer phone calls rather than accompany Marcel. Marcel also recalled being flooded with questions by newsmen but not being able to say anything and of his wife being pestered by a reporter at home.
However, Lt. Robert Shirkey in Roswell flight operations, recalled the plane leaving at about 2:00 Roswell time, or about an hour and a half before the press release (based on Shirkey's book, Roswell 1947 "I Was There"; see also this Albuquerque Journal article). Shirkey saw them loading the B-29 with boxes of debris, including the so-called I-beams with raised lettering. Shirkey was told they were parts of a "crashed flying saucer." He also recalled Blanchard accompanying Marcel to the plane. He asked Blanchard to turn sideways so that he could see what was going on. They were carrying what appeared to be a piece of metal 18 x 24 inches, brushed stainless steel in color. (Shirkey's affidavit) Flight engineer Sgt. Robert Porter was on the flight. Both he and Shirkey stated the plane was piloted by the Roswell Deputy Base Commander, Lt. Col. Payne Jennings. Jennings signed an order that day assuming command of the base and the press was also told that Blanchard had gone on leave and was unavailable for comment. Thus it was deemed necessary that the plane be piloted by the Acting Base Commander instead of using one of the many regular pilots available at Roswell. This was yet another indication of the high importance attached to this flight. (This is extremely similar to deputy base commander Col. Alvin Clark at Fort Worth AAF acting as "colonel" courier for debris samples bound for Washington two days before, as related by Brig. Gen. Thomas Dubose. Again, this indicates great importance being attached to the debris.) Like Shirkey, Porter said he was also told on board that the debris was from a flying saucer. But soon after they arrived in Fort Worth, he was told they were carrying a weather balloon. (Porter's affidavit)
Shirkey felt that he "had heard or seen things I wasn't supposed to" because he was transferred to the Philippines only 9 days later to a post that did not exist. In addition, Lt. Col. Jennings personally flew him to San Francisco on a B-29 to expedite his transfer. Shirkey's comment in his book was, "I had never, nor have I since, heard of a First Lieutenant being flown to his next station assignment in the Air Force's top of the line bomber by the Acting Base Commander."
This Acting Base Commander, however, seemed to have a lot of free time on his hands
Ramey Spins the Story
Marcel's flight to Fort Worth by B-29 would take approximately and hour and a half to two hours While Marcel was en route and probably shortly after the press release, Col. Dubose said he received another call from Gen. McMullen. McMullen ordered him to instigate a cover-up and "put out the fire." Dubose said he wasn't sure who came up with the weather balloon idea, but it may have been Ramey himself.
The N.Y. Times and Chicago Tribune the next day reported that the story began to change within about an hour of the press release going over the wire. Since the AP first broke the story at 4:26 CDT , this means the story had begun to change before 5:26 in Fort Worth. The San Francisco Examiner went into more detail. Reporter Dick Pearce said he surmised that "higher headquarters" in the press release meant 8th AAF HQ in Fort Worth. He avoided the jammed phone lines into Roswell and instead called Gen. Ramey directly within an hour of the press release. Pearce claimed he was the first to reach Ramey and also the first to get the "real" story out.
Pearce said Ramey described a weather balloon and radar target to him, just like what they launched at Oakland (CA) every day. Ramey said he would later bring in a weather officer to confirm the identification.
(Science writer Pearce broke the story about the race to build atomic weapons clear back in 1940. He was pictured in the Examiner with Berkeley atomic physicist Ernest O. Lawrence and General Ramey only two weeks before the Roswell story, showing he obviously knew who Ramey was--photo at right. This probably explains why he called Ramey to begin with and why Ramey spoke to him.)
United Press wire chatter about 50 minutes after the press release indicates that they had been informed by Roswell base that Marcel had been sent to Fort Worth and one of their people in Dallas was on the story. UP-based stories in the The San Francisco (CA) News, Clovis New Mexico Press and New York PM (later the N.Y. Star) all quoted Ramey as saying, "The object is in my office right now and as far as I can see there is nothing to get excited about. It looks to me like the remnants of a weather balloon and a radar reflector."
In addition, Ramey was reported to have said that he hadn't let anybody see or photograph it yet "because Washington had clamped a 'security lid' on all but the sketchiest details." (N.Y. PM)
Also according to the S.F. News story, "General Ramey informed Army Air Force national headquarters the object was "of very flimsy construction--almost like a box-kite.' . . . The general said it had been badly smashed up and apparently was made with a cover of some kind of material like tin foil. General Ramey said part of a weather balloon was found nearby when the object was picked up on a New Mexico ranch about three weeks ago."
Similarly, the New Mexico Press wrote, "He said that the 'so-called disc' was of box kite construction and covered with tinfoil. Ramey also revealed that part of a weather balloon was found nearby when it was picked up in New Mexico."
Besides UP, an International News Service story in the Los Angeles Herald-Express quoted Gen. Ramey asserting that the "purported 'flying disc' found in eastern New Mexico is 'evidently nothing other than a weather or radar instrument of some kind.'" (Part of the Herald-Express front page headline, in fact, read "General Believes It Is Radar Weather Target.")
In addition to INS Ramey's statement, the Herald-Express also reported another INS news story that Colorado Senator Ed. C. J. Johnson had called the Denver Post from Washington and told them that the New Mexico object may have been "either a radar target or a meteorological balloon." How Senator Johnson got involved in the weather balloon story so early on and why he was talking to the Denver Post are mysteries.
The S.F. News UP and various Herald-Express stories are especially significant, since they were both West Coast evening papers and tell us how the story was being reported by the various wire service agencies in its early stages. Ramey must have changed the story quickly to a weather balloon and radar target for this to have appeared in the July 8 evening editions of both newspapers as part of their headline story. For both papers to have gotten the story out in time for their evening editions, the wire service stories quoting Ramey (and also Sen. Johnson) probably had to arrive by about 4:00 p.m. PDT on the West Coast, or by 6:00 p.m. in Fort Worth.
In accord with this timeline, major papers such as the N.Y. Times, S.F. Examiner, and Washington Post also reported that Lt. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, acting AAF Chief of Staff, ducked into the AAF press room at the Pentagon and took personal charge of the investigation. From there he directed that phone calls be made to Roswell and Fort Worth.
Vandenberg's daily log shows him leaving his office at 5:14 p.m. EST or 6:14 EDT (5:14 EDT in Fort Worth and 4:14 in Roswell) and not returning for another hour. This is the likely time when Vandenberg went to the AAF press office and is "within an hour" of the press release when the original story was reported to have started changing.
(For newspaper quotes and more on Vandenberg's activities, click here.) When Ramey was reached from the Pentagon press room, the Washington Post reported that Ramey said he hadn't seen the object yet but that it was sitting in his office. If Marcel hadn't arrived from Roswell yet, this would have been impossible.
Exactly as in the UP-based story, the Post had Ramey describing the object being "of very flimsy construction--almost like a box-kite", made of wood and with a cover "like tinfoil." Again this was obviously the description of a radar target, but the Post story didn't have Ramey explicity calling it that as did the UP stories.
Then Ramey said he would go take a look at it. The Post said he called back to report that it appeared to be 25 feet across if reconstructed! In reality, nothing in the subsequent photos of the weather balloon and radar target would remotely suggest such a size, which was larger than Ramey's office. Ramey's bogus description of size is yet another indication that there was nothing yet in his office for him to see. Ramey was apparently improvising. Military public information officers continued to describe the size of the object as 20 to 25 feet across well into the evening, according to various contemporary news stories by AP, UP, and ABC news radio.
It is possible that this size description, completely inconsistent with the scanty weather balloon debris that was eventually shown, was yet another potential cover story. E.g., one major Roswell military witness in a recent interview claimed to have seen the badly damaged craft at the base and described it as 20 to 25 feet across.
Similarly, according to former teletype operator Lydia Sleppy, Johnny McBoyle, a newsman with Roswell radio staiton KSWS, had made it out to a crash site (probably late in the morning or early afternoon of July 8). When McBoyle finally phoned in the story, Sleppy tried to put it out over the wire, only to be cut off by the FBI, which was monitoring transmissions.. (Sleppy's affidavit) Shortly before his death, McBoyle also allegedly stated that he saw an object like "a crushed dishpan" impacted in a slope and about 25 to 30 feet long.
Conceivably Ramey used a 25 foot description as a cautionary hedge against any descriptions of the actual craft that might have leaked out, from McBoyle or anybody else.
Another strange description of Ramey and his minions was the object being "hexagonal" in shape. (see, e.g., FBI Roswell telegram) The profile of an intact radar target might be described this way by a specialist, but all Ramey was to show was a broken up target laid out flat on his office floor. This also very strongly suggests that there was still nothing in Ramey's office for him to see, and that the entire radar target story had been prefabricated. (see Ramey's impossible hexagon description)
Ramey, and then Pentagon spokespeople, would also strangely emphasize that the "boxkite" foil-covered "disc" was too flimsy to have carried a crew, as if this would need mentioning at all. And as previously mentioned, earlier in the day, the Pentagon had also already denied that the flying saucers were "spaceships". To paraphrase Shakespeare, they doth protesteth too much.
Finally, as in a number of other stories, the Washington Post article had Ramey stating that "he was shipping it on to Wright Field, Ohio, but would have one of the meteorological officers look at it first."
At 6:53 pm EDT (5:53 Fort Worth), an AP bulletin datelined Washington, quoted Ramey as saying that the "disk" had been shipped to Wright Field, Ohio. This helps brackets the time when Ramey was in public communication with the Pentagon: sometime between 5:14 (Fort Worth time) when Vandenberg left his office and went to the press room, and 5:53 when this bulletin went out. It was during this time that Ramey started changing the story to the crash object being the remains of an ordinary weather balloon and radar target. The important point here, based on the various 1947 news articles, is Ramey early on clearly identifying the wreckage as belonging to a simple weather balloon and radar target long before any pictures were taken or before it was officially identified by a weather officer. Even a Colorado U.S. Senator was calling a constituent newspaper and putting out the story. The weather balloon/radar target cover story was already firmly in place. According to Walter Haut in a recent interview, Ramey had secretly flown to Roswell earlier in the day and informed key staff that they were going to be putting out a weather balloon cover story. If true, that would explain the quickness with which Ramey had initiated the balloon story after the press release went out. It would also have provided Ramey's men plenty of time to rummage up a shill weather balloon and radar target for the photo-op in Ramey's office that was soon to take place. In fact, there was a demonstration of these at Fort Worth AAF only two days later as part of a countrywide military debunking campaign of Roswell and the saucers.
At the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, an editor was following the AP wireservice stories. The 5:53 bulletin was the first indication from the AP that "higher headquarters" in the Roswell press release meant Gen. Ramey at Fort Worth. A young reporter named J. Bond Johnson was dispatched to Ramey's office to cover the story. Johnson today says the base was across town and it would have taken him about half an hour to get there.