It was a snow-covered December in 1995 when President Bill Clinton, visiting Northern Ireland in support of the country's new and fragile peace process, spoke to a large gathering that had arrived for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The president opted to dismiss politics and keep the mood of his speech light. At one point, he drew laughter as he referred to a letter he'd recently received from a 13-year-old boy in Belfast.

"Ryan," the president said, "in case you're out there, here is your answer: No. As far as I know, no spaceship crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. And if the Air Force recovered any extraterrestrial bodies, they did not tell me."

Such is the widespread and ongoing fascination attached to a legendary event that many believe actually took place on the late J.B. Foster's sheep ranch more than a half-century ago. What has transpired since that Independence Day weekend when a "flying saucer" was allegedly recovered by military personnel from Roswell Army Air Field has fueled a debate that continues 56 years later. Is it possible that such an unearthly event really occurred? The question has spawned an industry of books--well more than 100 at last count--and documentary films, inspired popular television shows and sci-fi movies, a prospering museum business in Roswell and insistence by many researchers that an ongoing government cover-up of the historic discovery puts Watergate to shame.

Perhaps Clinton should have visited with Midland's Anne Robbins before giving his answer. The widow of a career military man stationed in Roswell at the time, she might have changed his mind. She would probably have shared the description of the saucer that her husband, Technical Sergeant Ernest Robert Robbins, told her he helped recover long ago and the three small "men"--one dead, one near death and another very much alive--found outside the spaceship.

But we're getting ahead of the story.

Was the arid Lincoln County region actually visited by inhabitants of another world? If so, why has the government refused to admit it? And could it be true, as some now claim, that many modern-day technical advancements--from lasers to fiber optics, integrated circuit chips to Velcro--have evolved from scientific examination and reverse engineering studies of a now hidden spacecraft?

As the story goes, William "Mac" Brazel, who leased the Foster Ranch at the time, was on horseback herding sheep when he happened onto a large field of strewn debris unlike anything he'd ever seen. He would later tell neighbors Floyd and Loretta Proctor it was clearly something that had fallen from the sky; perhaps the cause of the too-loud-to-be-thunder boom he'd heard during the previous night's rainstorm.

Brazel allegedly showed the Proctors some of the pieces he'd collected, metallic but thin as tinfoil. They watched in amazement as he wrinkled one, laid it on a table and saw it immediately smooth to its original shape. And there were the pieces of stick-like material, no heavier than balsa wood, bendable but impossible to break or cut with a knife. On some were what he later compared to Indian petroglyphs, series of strange symbols and pastel-colored drawings.

The neighbors, aware of the flying-saucer mania then sweeping the nation, suggested he tell authorities. Thus, two days later, on the morning of July 7, 1947, Brazel made the 60-mile drive to Roswell and told Chaves County Sheriff George Wilcox of his discovery, showing him several pieces of the strange debris he had collected. Wilcox phoned Major Jesse Marcel at the nearby air base and suggested he might want to speak with the 48-year-old rancher.

After examining the material and hearing Brazel's description of the size of the debris field--three-quarters of a mile long and 200 to 300 feet wide, with a lengthy "gouge" in the ground at its north end--Marcel arranged to meet Brazel at the ranch.

Thereafter the story becomes a blur that historians are still attempting to sort out. According to evidence gathered by numerous researchers--both scientists and laymen collectively calling themselves UFOlogists--a small, elite group of military personnel was assigned to guard the area, collect the debris and take it to the base. There, orders had already been received from Brigadier General Roger Ramey, commanding officer of the 8th Air Force, that everything recovered was to be flown immediately to what would later become Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth.

Still, the story might never have created a worldwide frenzy had the base public information officer, Lieutenant Walter Haut, not issued a startling press release that appeared beneath a banner headline in the next day's edition of the Roswell Daily Record: "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region."

Haut's press release, ordered by Colonel William Blanchard, the base commanding officer, made it clear that something more than pieces of scattered debris had been found. "The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer," it read. The release went on to explain that "Major Marcel and a detail from his department went to the ranch and discovered the disc."

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers