You might say that the whole Roswell case began with Major Jesse Marcel, who, in July 1947, was the air intelligence officer of the 509th Bomb Group at the Roswell Army Air Field. It was Marcel who told the world that he had picked up pieces of a flying saucer while he was stationed there. Strange metallic debris scattered over a large area. Metal that was thin and tough, that resisted repeated blows from a sledgehammer, thin foil-like material that wouldn’t burn, and slender I-beams, not much larger than the supports of a kite but that couldn’t be broken.
Marcel seemed like a sincere man who was relating to UFO researchers, reporters, and even college students, what he had seen on that hot, July day. His conclusion was that he had found something that came to Earth but that had not been built on Earth. In other words, he thought it was something of extraterrestrial manufacture.
Since that time, Marcel’s credibility has been attacked by those in the skeptical community, suggesting that he was mistaken... or that he was incompetent... or that he was a liar trying to improve his reputation because of his claim he had found a flying saucer was quickly shown by a higher headquarters to be a weather balloon.
Much of the attack rests on an interview that Bob Pratt, the late reporter from the National Enquirer conducted. Pratt was a serious reporter who chased flying saucers like the rest of us and who tried to get the facts of a case before reporting them. Regardless of the publication for which he worked, he did solid research and many UFO investigators take his word as the truth.
Pratt was kind enough to share his transcript of the Marcel interview with many of us. It is a sort of stream of consciousness transcript with notes added here and there and points where it is difficult to understand the exact meaning.
The easiest example of this is where Marcel tells Pratt he have been shot down during the Second World War. Pratt asked if everyone survived and Marcel said, "All but one crashed into a mountain."
That seems to suggest that everyone but one other crashed into the mountain and were killed. Of course, if I insert a comma, it now reads, "All, but one crashed into a mountain." That suggests that everyone but one man survived.
In the Pratt interview it says (reproduced as Pratt typed it), "I got shot down one time, my third mission, out of Port Moresby (everyone survive) all but one crashed into a mountain."
I asked Pratt if he had the tape so that we could hear Marcel make the comment and decide exactly what he meant but Pratt said he didn’t. They used the tapes over and over, so the actual words were lost. We can’t hear the inflection so we don’t know exactly what Marcel said. Pratt probably got it right... but it points out how important punctuation can be. The comma alters the meaning.
But that isn’t really the problem with this interview. It is the other things that Marcel said during that have taken on importance. In a few cases, this is the only time that he made some of the claims and I have to wonder about it. Some of them can be easily understood in the context of a rapidly expanding Army at the beginning of World War II but some of it is quite disturbing.
He said, according to Pratt, "Entered the US Army Air Force in April 1942; was an aide to Hap Arnold..."
Karl Pflock, in his anti-Roswell book, noted that Marcel’s record precluded this, but Karl isn’t quite right. Looking at Marcel’s assignments, we see a period of about two months in which Marcel was waiting for a school date, not an uncommon experience in the Army. During those periods, a soldier is often given a temporary assignment so that he’s not wasting the Army’s money. So, during that time, Marcel could have worked as an aide for Hap Arnold and it wouldn’t be reflected in his record. It would just be a job he filled in at until he could go to school.
I was a general’s aide for about a month back in 1976. Although assigned to the unit as a Public Affairs Officer, when the general’s aide went on leave, I was asked to fill in. So, my record does not reflect that period, but I did do it. Marcel’s claim of having been an aide to Hap Arnold could easily be something similar and in the grand scheme of things, not all that important.
Yeah, I would be happier if we could document this, but again, the point is trivial and unimportant. He could have served as an aide until his school date rolled around. He had to be doing something.
In keeping with this, Pratt asked Marcel about combat missions and Marcel said, "I had a total of 468 hours of combat time... was intelligence officer for a bomb wing, flew as pilot, waist gunner and bombardier at different times...:
Pflock and others point out there is nothing in Marcel’s record to suggest he was a pilot, waist gunner or bombardier. And here again we have to look at the words. He didn’t say he was those things, only that he had flown as them, meaning, I suspect, that he got flying time in the right seat as a pilot, and as a waist gunner and as a bombardier.
This is not unheard of in Army Aviation. I was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and depending on the mission, we sometimes allowed the crew chief to fly as the co-pilot, giving him a little bootleg stick time. I flew as a doorgunner a couple of times. So Marcel could have flown in those positions without being "rated" in them.
In the long run, this is a relatively trivial point as well, and shouldn’t really color our thinking about Marcel. No, there are other things that dominate the landscape. Important things.
According to Pratt, and here I’m going to try to reproduce the transcript as Pratt did so that the areas of confusion can be seen.
Q– 3000 hrs pilot (right) 8000 hrs flying time (medals) I have five air medals because I shot down 5 enemy aircraft in combat (from B24) yes. from waist gun of a B24 in south pacific. and I was given a bronze star for the work I did re-teaching personnel that came to fly combat, that were greenhorns that came out of the states."
Here’s what we know. Marcel, according to his records, and the notations are in multiple places, and according to citations found among the documents of the unit histories of the units to which he belonged, show that Marcel had received two air medals, both of them for participating in aerial flight into combat zones and doing his job as well as could be expected. Nothing suggests that he shot down five enemy aircraft. Nothing suggests that, while flying as a waist gunner, he shot down any enemy aircraft, or even engaged them.
This then, is a real problem and I have no idea what it means, other than to suggest that Jesse Marcel stretched the truth on this point (Yes, I’m being a little mealy mouthed about this, but then I know Jesse Jr. quite well and we’re talking about his father).
And, we have no indication that Marcel ever held a pilot’s license and he certainly wasn’t rated as a pilot in the military. Yes, he could have had bootleg time, but 3000 hours is an awful lot of bootleg time, even with missions that might have lasted ten or twelve hours. Besides, Marcel himself limited the combat time to something under 500 hours.
There really is no way around this unless Bob Pratt made a horrendous mistake transcribing the tape, and while there are areas of confusion, nothing like this. Jess Marcel must have said it and even with Pratt’s transcript, it’s pretty clear.
Marcel, in that same, long paragraph, continued, saying, "... around the world 5 times, been in 68 countries... degree in nuclear physics (bachelors) at completed work at GW Univ in Wash. attended (LSU, Houston, U of Wis, NY Univ, Ohio State, Docotr pool? and GW..."
Quite confusing, but also suggests that Marcel said that he had a bachelor’s degree which might have been given by George Washington University, or maybe that he completed his work there and the degree came from somewhere else... Not that it matters. GW has no record of him and neither do the other schools except LSU. According to his military record, he had completed one and a half years and I have found no indication that he attended any of these other schools as a student.
I will point out that military schools, especially during the build up during World War II were often held on the campuses of universities and this might be the reason that Marcel said he had gone to school at some of them. It’s a possibility but I don’t think it’s very likely.
There really is no way around this unless Bob Pratt made a horrendous mistake transcribing the tape.
It is important to note that I haven’t seen these claims made again by Marcel and I don’t know what happened so that he made them with Pratt. When the skeptics point to them, they are raising legitimate issues about Marcel.
But Marcel was who he said he was in 1947 and that is the air intelligence officer at the base. He was pictured with the balloon debris in General Roger Ramey’s office that was alleged to have come from the crash site. He was a trained intelligence officer who would have been familiar with weather balloons and no matter what the Mogul crowd says, the array they claim is responsible for the story was nothing more than common weather balloons and rawin targets. Something that Sheridan Cavitt, who accompanied Marcel into the field recognized immediately as a balloon, or so he eventually claimed. He never explained why he didn’t mention this to either Marcel or Colonel William Blanchard, the base commander at Roswell. For some reason Cavitt kept this to himself.
Not to mention that during my first face-to-face interview with Cavitt, he told me that he had never been out to collect any balloon debris. In fact, according to what he said, he wasn’t even in Roswell in early July 1947. Later he changed this to having just arrived there in time to go out with Marcel.
Where does that leave us? Well, it seems that which ever side you decide to come down on, you’re going to run into some trouble. Marcel apparently embellished his record, though it seems only a single time and that he was who he said he was in July 1947.
Cavitt, it seems, changed his story on a number of occasions and then never explained why he’d never told Marcel or Blanchard it was a balloon if he knew the truth. So, as in so much of the Roswell case, you can look at the spin of the researchers and skeptics, look at the records of the soldiers, and still not know, for certain, where the truth lies.