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- The Flying Saucers are Real - 4/38 -
"I didn't say it was a special order," he answered quickly. "All pilots have routine instructions to report unusual items."
"They had fighters alerted on the Coast, when the scare first broke," I reminded him. "Are those orders still in force?"
He shook his head. "No, not that I know of." After a moment he added, "All I can tell you is that the Air Force is still investigating. We honestly don't know the answer."
As I went out the Mall entrance, I ran into Jack Daly, one of Washington's veteran newsmen. Before the war, Jack and I had done magazine pieces together, usually on Axis espionage and communist activity. I told him I was trying to find the answer to Mantell's death.
"You heard anything?" I asked him.
"Only what was in the A.P. story," said Jack. "But an I.N.S. man told me they had a saucer story from Columbus, Ohio--and it might have been the same one they saw at Fort Knox."
"I missed that. What was it?"
"They sighted the thing at the Air Force field outside of Columbus. It was around sundown, about two hours after that pilot was killed in Kentucky."
"Anybody chase it?" I asked.
"No. They didn't have time to take off, I guess. This I.N.S. guy said it was going like hell. Fast as a jet, anyway."
"Did he say what it looked like?"
"The Air Force boys said it was as big as a C-47," said Jack. "Maybe bigger. It had a reddish-orange exhaust streaming out behind. They could see it for miles."
"If you hear any more, let me know," I said. Jack promised he would.
"What do you think they are?" he asked me.
"It's got me stumped. Russia wouldn't be testing missiles over here. Anyway, I can't believe they've got anything like that. And I can't see the Air Force letting pilots get killed to hide something we've got."
One week later, I heard that a top-secret unit had been set up at Wright Field to investigate all saucer reports. When I called the Pentagon, they admitted this much, and that was all.
In the next few months, other flying-disk stories hit the front pages. Two Eastern Airline pilots reported a double-decked mystery ship sighted near Montgomery, Alabama. I learned of two other sightings, one over the Pacific Ocean and one in California. The second one, seen through field glasses, was described as rocket-shaped, as large as a B-29. There were also rumors of disks being tracked by radar, but it was almost a year before I confirmed these reports.
When Purdy wired me, early in May of '49, I had half forgotten the disks. It had been months since any important sightings had been reported. But his message quickly revived my curiosity. If he thought the subject was hot, I knew he must have reasons. When I walked into his office at 67 West 44th, Purdy stubbed out his cigarette and shook hands. He looked at me through his glasses for a moment. Then he said abruptly:
"You know anything about the disks?"
"If you mean what they are--no."
He motioned for me to sit down. Then he swiveled his chair around, his shoulders hunched forward, and frowned out the window.
"Have you seen the Post this week?"
I told him no.
"There's something damned queer going on. For fifteen months, Project 'Saucer' is buttoned up tight. Top secret. Then suddenly, Forrestal gets the Saturday Evening Post
to run two articles, brushing the whole thing off. The first piece hits the stands--and then what happens?"
Purdy swung around, jabbed his finger at a document on. his desk.
"That same day, the Air Force rushes out this Project 'Saucer' report. It admits they haven't identified the disks in any important cases. They say it's still serious enough--wait a minute--"he thumbed through the stapled papers--" 'to require constant vigilance by Project "Saucer" personnel and the civilian population.'"
"You'd think the Post would make a public kick," I said.
"I don't mean it's an out-and-out denial," said Purdy. "It doesn't mention the Post--just contradicts it. In fact, the report contradicts itself. It looks as if they're trying to warn people and yet they're scared to say too much."
I looked at the title on the report: "A Digest of Preliminary Studies by the Air Materiel Command, Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, on 'Flying Saucers.'"
"Have the papers caught it yet?" I asked Purdy.
"You mean its contradicting the Post?" He shook his head. "No, the Pentagon press release didn't get much space. How many editors would wade through a six-thousand-word government report? Even if they did, they'd have to compare it, item for item, with the Post piece."
"Who wrote the Post story?"
Purdy lit a cigarette and frowned out again at the skyscrapers.
"Sidney Shallett--and he's careful. He had Forrestal's backing. The Air Force flew him around, arranged interviews, supposedly gave him inside stuff. He spent two months on it. They O.K.'d his script, which practically says the saucers are bunk. Then they reneged on it."
"Maybe some top brass suddenly decided it was the wrong policy to brush it off," I suggested.
"Why the quick change?" demanded Purdy. "Let's say they sold the Post on covering up the truth, in the interests of security. It's possible, though I don't believe it. Or they could simply have fed them a fake story. Either
Way, why did they rush this contradiction the minute the Post hit the stands?"
"Something serious happened," I said, "after the Post went to press."
"Yes, but what?" Purdy said impatiently. "That's what we've got to find out."
"Does Shallett's first piece mention Mantell's death?"
"Explains it perfectly. You know what Mantell was chasing? The planet Venus!"
"That's the Post's answer?" I said, incredulously.
"It's what the Air Force contract astronomer told Shallett. I've checked with two astronomers here. They say that even when Venus is at full magnitude you can barely see it in the daytime even when you're looking for it. It was only half magnitude that day, so it was practically invisible."
"How'd the Air Force expect anybody to believe that answer?" I said.
Purdy shrugged. "They deny it was Venus in this report. But that's what they told Shallett--that all those Air Force officers, the pilots, the Kentucky state police, and several hundred people at Madisonville mistook Venus for a metallic disk several hundred feet in diameter."
"It's a wonder Shallett believed it."
"I don't think he did. He says if it wasn't Venus, it must have been a balloon."
"What's the Air Force answer?" I asked Purdy.
"Look in the report. They say whatever Mantell chased--they call it a 'mysterious object'--is still unidentified."
I glanced through the case report, on page five. It quoted Mantell's radio report that the thing was metallic and tremendous in size. Linked with the death of Mantell was the Lockbourne, Ohio, report, which tied in with what Jack Daly had told me, over a year before. I read the report:
"On the same day, about two hours later, a sky phenomenon was observed by several watchers over Lockbourne Air Force Base, Columbus, Ohio. It was described as 'round or oval, larger than a C-47, and traveling in level
flight faster than 500 miles per hour.' The object was followed from the Lockbourne observation tower for more than 20 minutes. Observers said it glowed from white to amber, leaving an amber exhaust trail five times its own length. It made motions like an elevator and at one time appeared to touch the ground. No sound was heard. Finally, the object faded and lowered toward the horizon."
Purdy buzzed for his secretary, and she brought me a copy of the first Post article.
"You can get a copy of this Air Force report in Washington," Purdy told me. "This is the only one I have. But you'll find the same answer for most of the important cases--the sightings at Muroc Air Base, the
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