Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creating Memories

This one, I’m afraid, is for the skeptics in the crowd. It deals with memory, how it is formed, how it is recalled, and what it means to those of us who conduct investigations of long-ago events. The problem is that most of what we believe about memory is about to be radically altered, and if we pay attention to the on-going research into memory, it can only lead to better information gathered about long-ago events.

First, let me say that I have known for a long time that memory is often hazy and sometimes radically altered in the mere process of remembering. In The Abduction Enigma we looked at the phenomenon of “flash bulb” memory, that is, those memories formed around some sort of important event. The old standby was “where were you when you learned the president had been assassinated?” The thought was that this sort of a memory was “burned” into the brain with greater intensity than the mundane memories of day-to-day life and would be recalled with much better accuracy.
But, according to Professor Ulric Neisser, who was at Emory University in January 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, this might not be true. He had a rare opportunity to study these flash bulb memories because of the Challenger disaster. The day after the spacecraft blew-up, he presented his first-year students with a short questionnaire that dealt with what they were doing, where they were, and what they remembered. Three years later he gave them the same questionnaire but asked one additional question. He wanted to know how accurate they thought their memories were.

According to the results published by Neisser and his graduate assistant Nicole Harsh, one quarter of the students didn’t have any accurate memories of the event. In one case a student said that he had been with his parents when he learned of the disaster, but the questionnaire revealed he had been at school at the time.
More important was the reaction of the students when confronted with the discrepancies. None disputed the accuracy of the written documents but one student, when shown the questionnaire said, “I still remember everything happening the way I told you. I can’t help it.” She was defending her memories that were clearly an invention of her own mind.
The other 75% of the students remembered some, most, or all of it accurately. Twenty-five percent remembered the disaster accurately, so we can see that not all those involved were wrong and some can accurately recall the “stored” events. It would be interesting to see how they remembered the events today, after so many years have passed but that research has not been attempted.

I say all this as introduction to a new study that suggests memory is even more flawed than Neisser and Harsh suggested. According to an online article in Wired (March 2012) by Jonah Lehrer entitled The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories, and available at:

memory erodes very quickly. Lehrer wrote:

Consider the study of flashbulb memories, extremely vivid, detailed recollections. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, a team of psychologists led by William Hirst and Elizabeth Phelps surveyed several hundred subjects about their memories of that awful day. The scientists then repeated the surveys, tracking how the stories steadily decayed. At one year out, 37 percent of the details had changed. By 2004 that number was approaching 50 percent. Some changes were innocuous—the stories got tighter and the narratives more coherent—but other adjustments involved a wholesale retrofit. Some people even altered where they were when the towers fell. Over and over, the act of repeating the narrative seemed to corrupt its content. The scientists aren’t sure about this mechanism, and they have yet to analyze the data from the entire 10-year survey. But Phelps expects it to reveal that many details will be make-believe. “What’s most troubling, of course, is that these people have no idea their memories have changed this much,” she says. “The strength of the emotion makes them convinced it’s all true, even when it’s clearly not.”

Lehrer noted that most of what we thought we knew about memory going back to the ancient Greeks is in error. Lehrer wrote, “Since the time of the ancient Greeks, people have imagined memories to be a stable form of information that persists reliably. The metaphors for this persistence have changed over time—Plato compared our recollections to impressions in a wax tablet, and the idea of a biological hard drive is popular today—but the basic model has not. Once a memory is formed, we assume that it will stay the same. This, in fact, is why we trust our recollections. They feel like indelible portraits of the past.”
But, according to the research, this is all untrue. In studying memory, and the way it is stored in the brain, it seems that the memory evolves as it is accessed. Each time someone remembers something, it can be subtly altered. New information might be included, old information edited out, and anything that a person has heard about an event can be incorporated in the memory.
An example of this Lydia Sleppy, the teletype operator (well, secretary at a New Mexico radio station KOAT in 1947) who was typing the story of the UFO crash as told to her by Johnny McBoyle. According to an article by Bobbi Ann Slate and Stan Friedman in the Winter 1974 issue of Saga’s UFO Report, “As the woman began typing out the fantastic news item over the teletype to their other two radio stations, a line appeared in the middle of her text, tapped in from somewhere, with the official order: ‘Do not continue this transmission!’

In The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore, the statement was, “Attention Albuquerque: Do not transmit. Repeat do not transmit this message. Stop communication immediately.”
She told me, in a February 1993 interview, “I don’t know how much I had typed but I was typing what John [McBoyle] dictated when the signal came on that this was the FBI and we were to cease transmitting.”
In her signed affidavit of September 1993, she said, “This is the FBI. You will immediately cease all communication.”
While it can be seen here that she clearly added the FBI to her story, what we don’t know is how it was introduced. It could be it was something that she remembered, or it could be that someone, asking about that communication wondered if it might not have been the FBI, and she incorporated the FBI into her memory. Clearly the memory has changed from the time it was first told and reported in 1974, until she talked to me and signed the affidavit nearly twenty years later.
What all this new research says to me is that memories, no more than a year old can be badly flawed. Memories that are accessed time and again, as most of those for the various “Roswell” witnesses have been, could easily be altered as they come into contact with new information.
Jason Kellahin, who was a reporter in 1947, told me, that they had been alerted to the UFO crash story in the morning and drove to the Foster ranch. Brazel, his wife and young son were there. Brazel took Kellahin and Robin Adair, the photographer into the field.
There is nothing in the record, anywhere, to suggest that Brazel was in the field with a balloon to be photographed and when Kellahin was in that field, Brazel was already in Roswell, in the hands of the military. These facts can all be documented by various newspaper accounts and the testimony of nearly everyone else interviewed.
Nearly everything that Kellahin told me was wrong and I know this, not because he was reinforcing the balloon explanation, but because the facts, established through documentation from the time, prove that his story is untrue… but I should be clear on this, I didn’t say he was lying. He seemed to have believed everything he was saying, it was just contradicted by documentation.
And that is the key here. How do we determine what is an accurate picture of the events of July 1947 and what is a combination of confabulation (that is, an unconscious filling in of details of a story) and memory reconsolidation which is the way memory is recreated in the brain?
The answer is use the documentation available to corroborate the stories, use the testimony of others who were involved as a way of testing the veracity of a story, and cross check the information with what the witness has said before.

This new information, from Wired, is a cautionary tale for us. While we know that many of the witnesses were telling the truth, as they remember it, we must be aware that they might not remember it correctly. This complicates the task of putting together an accurate history of the Roswell case, but it also provides us with information that will be helpful in determining what the truth is.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Steve Pierce and Travis Walton

Several months ago the story that Philip Klass had attempted to bribe one of the witnesses to the Travis Walton abduction made its rounds. I took a somewhat middle of the road stance, suggesting that I could believe that Klass might attempt something like that, but that the evidence for it was rather thin. I now have additional information.

Steve Pierce
There were, in essence, two people who know the truth about this. One, Philip Klass is dead and the other, Steve Pierce had not been readily available for comment. However, on July 1, 2012, at the Roswell UFO Festival, I had the chance to sit down with Steve and get his side of the story. What follows is what he told me then.
Although my real interest in this was Steve’s interaction with Phil Klass, he did tell me part of the story from his perspective as one of the wood cutters in the truck driven by Mike Rogers.
They had seen a bright light and thought it was something that hunters in the area had set up. It was a solid light and a very bright white. One of them, Alan Dalis, thought that it was a spaceship.
Travis, outside the truck, began to walk toward it with everyone yelling for him to come back. A beam of light hit him in the chest and he flew backward. Rogers, and some of the others thought that Walton had been killed, and they took off in the truck. Some of them, Steve Pierce included, wanted to return. Rogers was talking about how he had left his best friend behind.
And one of them, Dwayne Smith, thought that Walton had been incinerated by the beam.
But they did return only they couldn’t find Walton. They drove into town and called the sheriff. Steve said that the cops looked for beer bottles, thinking that they all had been drinking. Rogers, Kenneth Peterson, and Dalis, to face his fears, went back out. Steve went on home.
He told me that the next morning, the police arrived and he heard them talking with his mother. He slipped out the back door and went over to his girlfriend’s house. The police thought that Walton was dead and the others were covering up the crime.
Eventually, the police convinced them all to take lie detector tests to try to learn the truth. They drew straws to see who would go first and Steve apparently lost. The polygraph operator asked if they had done bodily harm to Walton, and Steve answered that they hadn’t. He, as well as the others, passed the test, which wasn’t about the UFO and abduction, but an attempt to learn if a crime had been committed.
Walton, of course, showed up five days later, and told his story of the abduction and what he had experienced. It was then that so many UFO researchers, including the Lorenzens of APRO, the National Enquirer, and others began their search for the truth.
Steve Pierce ready to answer questions.
Steve didn’t have a large role in that. Eventually a local deputy named Jim Click, came to his house. Click said that Klass had called him and wanted him to relay a message to Steve. Klass was willing to pay ten thousand dollars if Steve would say that the whole thing was a hoax.
Once that offer had been made through Click, Steve said that he began to get regular phone calls from Klass reinforcing the offer. When he moved away from Arizona, he was surprised that Klass could track him down. He said that his name wasn’t Steve Pierce, but Jeffrey Steven Pierce. He had begun to use his middle name after his fellows in elementary school began to tease him about his first name.
It turned out that Klass had a copy of that first polygraph examination that listed his name as Jeff S. Pierce, so Klass had that information. That was how Klass could find him.
After Steve moved to Texas, and after hearing from Klass on a regular basis, Steve said that he told his wife that he just might take the money. He said that he had some bills and that much money had an appeal to him.
His wife asked if the story was a hoax and Steve said, “No.” She said that he couldn’t take the money. In fact, if he did, she would never spend any of it.
Steve told me that after three years, and the once a month telephone calls from Klass, he finally told Klass, “Yes, it’s hoax.” He then wanted to know how to get the money.
Philip Klass
According to Steve, he met Klass once in Texas. Ironically, Steve said that he found Klass to be a nice man when he wasn’t on the trail of a UFO story. He seemed to have gotten along well with Klass when they weren’t talking about the abduction.
This is an observation that I do not find hard to believe. Over the years I had many discussions, meetings, communications and telephone calls with Klass. Though he didn’t remember it, while I was in Washington, D.C. at a DIA school, Klass took me sailing on the Potomac River one afternoon. It wasn’t a long trip, just a little run about the area.
At the dinner meeting, Steve wanted to know how to get the money. Klass said that he needed to find some evidence, find the generator used to create bright light. Find “stuff” to prove it was a hoax.
Steve asked, “When do I get the money?”
And Klass said, “After you find the stuff to prove it was a hoax.”
Steve told me, “Phil Klass is the only person I ever told it was a hoax. I wanted the money.”
Steve said that not long after the incident he had a falling out with Walton and Rogers over things that had nothing to do with the UFO sighting or the abduction. He also said that he was annoyed about the way he was portrayed in the movie Fire in the Sky. He said that he wasn’t one of those crying as they fled the scene.
After this, Steve became a long haul trucker and stayed away from the UFO arena for several decades. It was only recently that he got back in touch with Walton (or maybe it was the other way around). He said that he had been to three of the UFO conventions or symposiums in the weeks prior to the 2012 Roswell Festival.
Here’s the thing. I sat there listening to his story, taking my notes, watching his face and his body language, and I have no reason to suspect he is lying. He said that you could prove that Click had come out to his house, but I’m not sure you would be able to prove the substance of the conversation.
He did know Klass and described his personality correctly. I had noticed the same things. Klass was quite charming when he wasn’t in the middle of a UFO debate, but that he would color things by his wording and descriptions to give a misleading impression. As I have said in the past, Klass wasn’t above writing letters to witness employers and causing trouble for those who didn’t agree with his analysis.
The question becomes, “Did Klass offer him ten thousand dollars?” and if he did, was it a bribe to get him to say it was a hoax? Clearly Klass believed that to be the case, so, to Klass, it would have been a payment to someone for finally telling the truth.
My impressions were that Steve Pierce was telling the truth about his experiences. If the Walton abduction was some kind of an elaborate hoax, Steve was not a part of it. He did say to Klass that it was a hoax, but there is that cloud of ten thousand dollars hanging over that claim. Steve has since repudiated it on a number of occasions.
I had wanted to get his take on this one aspect of the story. He answered my questions without hesitation, he explained the circumstances of his admission that it was a hoax (which he said he only said to Klass), and he explained how the falling out between him and Walton took place.
I have no reason to doubt his story.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chasing UFOs - Part Two

To be fair to Chasing UFOs, I suppose I should note that they have put up a response which seems to be because so many complained about their Roswell presentation. You can find it at:

But this is really too little too late. They concede the points that we all made about their investigation into Roswell but the mistakes should not have happened.
About the missile test footage, which they had originally said (or rather Ryder said couldn’t be a missile based on what her missile expert said), McGee wrote, “Again, in light of the evidence as detailed above without additional compelling evidence to the contrary, there is no scientifically compelling reason to question the hypothesis that the object captured on film is likely a rocket exhaust plume as viewed during an unusual missile or rocket bounce and crash. (To claim otherwise and invoke extraterrestrial technology is, again, to commit an argument from ignorance.)”
All well and good, but had they checked with White Sands, they would have known where the footage originated and wouldn’t have had to speculate. If they had checked the Internet they could have found the explanation.
McGee explains the initial excitement over the button. Those of us who know our history (and by this I merely mean the separation of the Air Force from the Army in September 1947) knew that no Air Force button would have been lost during the recovery operation. Those of us with military training knew that a button from a Class A uniform would have no significance in the Roswell case.
McGee now tells us, “Buttons of this nature were included on more formal uniform coats, which don’t necessarily make sense under a “hands-and-knees” recovery operation scenario. Field recovery personnel would not have been wearing more formal uniforms.”
Chasing UFOs' pristine Air Force
button. It is from 1949 at the latest.
Or, in other words, those out in the field would not have been wearing a Class A uniform. They would have been in fatigues. The buttons would have been different.
And he tells us, “The button was sent to an expert historian from the National Button Society during post-production, who concluded that the button (based on the manufacturer and button-backing) was at earliest from the year 1949.”
Without having to consult a “button expert” (okay, the unidentified expert clearly knew the history of buttons), many of us knew that the button couldn’t have been dropped during the retrieval. Had anyone been out there in a Class A uniform in July 1947, the button would have been Army and not Air Force.
Which leads back to the question of where did it come from?
Best guess… It was planted out there for them to find. It was planted by someone who knew of Frank Kimbler’s buttons but who had not seen them. It was planted by someone who just went out to buy an Air Force button. Did any of them, James Fox, Ben McGee or Erin Ryder do it?
Of course not.
Can we determine who did it?
Is that is really important now? Had we had some controversy over the button, then yes, it would be important. But, with all of us on the same page, it really becomes a moot point. The button was there, it didn’t belong there, it was from the wrong military service, from the wrong uniform, and it was manufactured some two years after the crash.
We now have the whole story. I do not understand why all this information had to wait until after the broadcast. I do not understand why, at the end, they couldn’t have mentioned these things with a scroll, which everyone seems to want to put at the bottom of our screens today. The information should have been included because it just wasn’t that difficult to find.
But kudos to McGee, and his fellows at Chasing UFOs, for giving us the rest of the story.
(A final and trivial note here. I did attempt to contact both Ben McGee and James Fox and have not heard back from them. I would guess that if you are on a national TV show, the public email addresses are probably overwhelmed with letters and comments. I didn’t expect that I would succeed in getting a response, but hey, I did try.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Roswell and Chasing UFOs

I have waited to comment on the National Geographic Channel’s Chasing UFOs because I wanted to see the episode that dealt with the Roswell case. I wanted to see how they handled it and I wanted to see if the button that they had used on the web to promote the program actually showed up in that program. There had been talk that the buttons they would use were those metallic fatigue uniform buttons that Frank Kimbler had found during earlier searches.

I now have the answers for my questions and it is not good.
White Sands UFO
First, let’s divert for a moment. They used that old video from White Sands of something that looked disc shaped that angled to the ground, bounced high and then hit with an explosion. They were quite impressed with it and at the end said that their missile expert had said that it wasn’t a missile.
But this video has been around for a decade or more and those on the SyFy Channel’s Fact or Faked: The Paranormal Files had explored the possibility that the footage was of a missile test that had gone astray. They attempted to replicate the footage themselves and did a fairly convincing job.
White Sands UFO near telephone pole.
I wondered then, and I wonder now, why these investigators don’t bother with checking with the White Sands Missile Range. I did that and Monte Marlin said that he once had an email response prepared that he sent out to all who asked about the video. It struck me that for him to do that, it meant that there were many others who also asked the question about the footage which isn’t a bad thing. I mean there were enough people asking about the validity of the tape that he felt compelled to create a generic response to save himself some time.
White Sands explosion.
Marlin, in his email to me said that this particular video was part of “an infrared shot of a Navy missile test...The high powered optics tests are part and parcel of our test mission here at the missile range. The data we collect belongs to our ‘customers,’ the weapons developers and is used for technical purposes. Once in a while the clips make their way to the general public...”
Marlin also noted, “There are many, many launch areas and instrumentation sites on this enormous missile range. It is not uncommon to see poles in video footage. The poles may carry cabling related to the test or some poles have markings so that when we look at the footage, we can measure time/space distance.”
This seems to explain what the video shows, and it seems that there is a terrestrial explanation for it. I do wonder why, we are once again treated to this footage when a good explanation for it has been offered and why those on this new show didn’t bother with that or even know it.
Frank Kimbler
After interviewing Cliff Stone, who seems to be a nice fellow who has studied UFOs for quite a while, but who has no special knowledge about the Roswell case, they move onto the Debris Field. They did take Frank Kimbler out there with them. He explains how he located the field, talking about getting the information from the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
With metal detectors, they begin to sweep the field. Quickly (and I say quickly because it is clear they didn’t spend many hours out there), they find a bit of metal. While everyone stands around speculating about how this might be part of the craft or it might be the remnants of the recovery operation, but not seeming to be able to identify the metal as a rusted can, they move on.
After Frank returns to Roswell, they decide to spend the night, using their metal detectors, night vision photography, and their enthusiasm. Eventually, Erin Ryder discovers something. They all crowd around as they dig it up and find a button. They don’t recognize it, but believe it to be military, and if so, why then that is highly significant.

Back in LA they analyze the things they have found. They mention their missile expert but nothing from White Sands. The first metal they found was nothing more important than the remains of a tin can. They had mentioned how desolate the area was, but failed to mention that it was a working ranch and that UFO investigators had been out there, on and off, for two decades. A rusted can has no significance.
A button similar to the one they found.
They have now identified the button as Air Force. The instant I saw it, I knew it was an Air Force button. But I also realized, the instant I saw it, that the button was irrelevant. In July 1947, when the recovery operation was underway, there was no Air Force. There was the Army Air Forces, but the point is, it was the Army Air Force Forces. The Air Force wouldn’t become a separate service until September.
Here’s something else. The button is from a Class A uniform which is basically a coat and a tie. While not exactly a dress uniform, it is much fancier than the fatigues that would be worn into the field. The soldiers, who were cleaning the debris field, would have been in fatigues, and while the officers wouldn’t be down on their hands and knees, they might well have been dressed in a similar fashion because they were also in the field. Had they not been wearing fatigues, they would have been in khakis, a Class B uniform that would not have had the fancier buttons on it.
And if they were, for some reason, out there in a Class A uniform, the buttons would not have been Air Force, they would have been Army.
In other, more precise words, that button, that great find by the Chasing UFOs team, had nothing to do with the recovery operation, whether picking up an alien craft or the remains of a weather balloon (which would have taken a couple of guys most of an hour… ).
It is quite clear that the button was planted out there by someone who didn’t understand military history, military operations, or the proper wear of the uniform. That button, from a Class A uniform, did not belong out there because those recovering the debris wouldn’t have been wearing Class A uniforms.
Here is something else about that button. It seemed to be too good. The button I used for the photograph had not been buried, but only exposed to the open air for a couple of decades. It is tarnished to a bronze color. The button they found seemed to be nearly pristine. I would expect that if it had been buried for any length of time it would have degraded more than my button that had not.
What this tells me is that the National Geographic has gone the same way as the Arts and Entertainment Channel, Bravo, History Channel and a couple of others. Arts and Entertainment was originally about programing from high culture but has changed until its highest rated show is Storage Wars about those who buy abandoned storage lockers.
Bravo, which once broadcast ballet and opera now gives us Tabatha’s Salon Takeover where she teaches the owners of hair salons how to keep the place clean, treat customers and cut hair. They also broadcast the Real Housewives of NYC and Pregnant in Heels.

The point is that National Geographic is now more about ratings than research. It is about audience share and entertainment and not about finding the truth, whatever that truth might be. It is about superficial research that avoids asking the difficult questions or asking those who might actually have an answer.
Had anyone there asked me about the button, I could have told them that the Air Force didn’t exist in July 1947. I could have told them that the Air Force came into existence in September 1947 so that a button from an Air Force uniform would have been dropped some time after that. I would have told them that I would not expect to find such a button and at best it was dropped by someone in a Class A uniform long after the recovery operation. At worse, it was planted out there for someone to find and draw the wrong conclusions.
I suppose this is no worse than any other documentary. While I get that the producers seem to have an attitude that some UFOs are alien craft, I would rather see something with a little more substance. The reaction to finding the rusted tin can struck me as over the top. The excitement over the button was somewhat strained. In other words, I didn’t believe the “acting” around the finds and that detracted from the overall message of the program.
This is just another example of a program that doesn’t have research at its heart but entertainment. In this case, the entertainment seems to suggest that aliens do visit Earth. In other programs, the emphasis seems to be that those reporting UFOs are somehow deluded, mistaken or uneducated. In neither case are the programs fair… they take a point of view to the exclusion of contradictory information.
Chasing UFOs is no better and no worse than any of the others. I just wish they knew the subject a little better

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Roswell and Chase Brandon

In the last couple of days I have been asked about my opinion on the latest Roswell revelation. It seems that a fellow named Chase Brandon (a name that is difficult to believe) has claimed that when he worked for the CIA he had the opportunity to review, search, mosey around in a classified area where he could snoop into whatever file, box or crate that he wanted to.

This is a tale that reminds me of Philip Corso who had the chance to see an alien body when the convoy taking the Roswell creatures to Wright Field stopped overnight (RON, in military terms meaning Remain Over Night) at Fort Riley, Kansas. Some buddy of Corso was prying open the sealed crates that had been removed from the trucks and stored in a building for better security (which obviously didn’t work). This sergeant friend of Corso’s opened one, and then, in a further and more outrageous breach of military security, told his buddy, Philip about it. Corso showed up and did the same thing eventually telling the world about the alien creature he had seen.
So now we have Brandon entering what he said is called Historical Intelligence Collection which is a vaulted area (meaning it is like a bank vault) and that not everyone can get into it. He said he was just wandering around in there, reading the handwritten labels when one caught his eye. According to him, there was but a single word. Roswell.
Crapola, I say.
Why in the hell would they label this box of significant history with a word that, until recently was the name of a Civil War officer and the name of a couple of towns (not to mention Maggie Roswell of The Simpsons fame)?
And, of course, in this box was everything to tell him that it was an alien craft and not one of the super duper secret balloons that had an intelligence function. Nope, there were photographs and documents that proved this was an alien craft.

Of course he has nothing to back up his statement on this except he is reported to have served as a covert operations officer in the CIA’s Clandestine Service for 25 years, and spent his last 10 years as the agency's official liaison to the entertainment and publication industries (which is a real hint). I suppose if you work in the director’s office you have the authority to poke around just about anywhere, even if you are only the liaison to the entertainment industry.
The question that springs to mind is where was this guy ten years or twenty years ago? How come the GAO couldn’t find him to talk to him and how come the GAO didn’t get to look in the Historical Intelligence Collection as they searched for documentation about the Roswell case? Does this mean that the CIA lied to the GAO when they said they had no records about it? Maybe that investigation should be reopened.
The story does provide us with the answer to those questions, however. According to Brandon, he is hawking his science fiction book about alien contact and what happens to Earth when the aliens arrive. Rather than just another first contact book, Brandon now has a hook that will get people talking. He is writing with his knowledge of a real event because he saw a box marked, “Roswell.” Maybe some of this classified stuff made it into the book.
And nope. I do not believe his tale. Just as I didn’t believe Philip Corso’s tale when approached by others as Corso was peddling his book. Sometimes you have to see behind the scenes. This is a case where the veil is nearly transparent. Brandon wants you to buy his book… and though I do read science fiction, I won’t buy this one.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Roswell Festival - 2012

The Roswell Festival, sponsored by the International UFO Museum and Research Center, was held over the first weekend in July. The July 4th holiday, falling as it did in the middle of the week, created a situation where there was no real three-day holiday, which meant for many that both Friday and Monday were work days.

One of the landing sites near Levelland.
After a detour through Levelland, Texas (where I looked at the stretch of road where a number of the close encounters or landings took place in 1957) I arrived in Roswell early on Thursday afternoon. I checked into the hotel and headed down to the museum to see what was going on the day before the festival started. You might say it was a bad idea because Don Schmitt and I got involved in helping to set up the museum floor for the festival (oh, I didn’t do all that much, but did provide a little commentary on how things should be arranged).
The next morning started with a breakfast before the doors opened. Julie Schuster, the museum director, who is ill, managed to show up to greet many of us. It was her only appearance at the festival and I fear it took a toll on her. She stayed to complete some work for the museum, though nearly everyone wanted her to go home to rest. They had the situation well in hand and didn’t want her to worry.
Almost at the moment the museum opened, one fellow came in to suggest that he wanted to take Stan and me to dinner so that Stan and I could hash out our differences. I told him absolutely not. I would not be a part of such a thing, though he did promise to pay for the meal. Any meal with him around would have been quite unpleasant.
I spent the day talking to people about UFOs, my philosophy of research, and early on, had a brief talk with Steve Pierce of Travis Walton abduction fame. As noted, I had a nice chat with Travis about his abduction experience, my philosophy of alien abduction which does not mirror his, naturally, and UFO research in general.
Tom Carey had arrived by then, with his wife, Doreen, as had David Rudiak with his wife, Roberta. While setting up the tables, I suggested that David could share my table, which he did throughout the festival.
Combat assault in Vietnam
I did several programs about my journey through UFO research, but in keeping with some of the complaints about my book, Reflections of a UFO Investigator, (that there wasn’t enough about my activities outside UFO research), I added some of that material to the presentation. If nothing else, people got to see some photographs that I had taken in Vietnam and learn that the vast majority of Vietnam Vets were “normal.”
On Saturday night, there was the Roswell investigators panel that included Stan Friedman, Tom, David, Frank Kimbler, Don and me. Don acted as the moderator, though he let some of those in the audience ramble on with their questions a little longer than I thought necessary, which is probably why no one asked me to moderate. After all, the title was “moderator.”
Frank Kimbler, David Rudiak and Tom Carey
The fellow, who thought that Stan and I should go to dinner, attempted to create some controversy with his “question.”  As he talked, I whispered to Don that I wasn’t going to be dragged into the fight. I wasn’t going to say a word in response. Apparently Stan wasn’t going to either.
His point seemed to be that we all should agree on everything because those at the far end of the spectrum, the debunkers, just loved it when we didn’t. He seemed to think that we all should embrace a common theme regardless of the evidence, or our interpretation of that evidence.
This seemed like an idiotic stand to take. If we all agreed on everything, regardless of the evidence, then wouldn’t the Skeptics have a field day with that? … And rightly so. There is no point in it, and no rational reason that I should accept everything that leads to UFOs as being extraterrestrial, and there is no point in Stan (or anyone else for that matter) doing the same. To get to a proper place, whether it is the extraterrestrial or somewhere else, we must be free to examine the evidence without worrying about agreeing with the opinions, interpretations, and beliefs of everyone else.
Talking to Stan later (he wasn’t dragged into the discussion either) I noted that he had the same opinion. There is no point in agreeing to agree with everything regardless of the evidence. All that would do was drag the whole discussion down with it.
Interestingly, a woman asked if we were all locked into the extraterrestrial explanation and there was a certain amount of agreement among us all. I suggested that given the evidence, it was the most likely solution, but there was a chance we were talking about something that might be interdimensional, intradimensional, or that we were talking about time travelers. I believe, given the other responses, the others on the panel tended to agree. We weren’t going to eliminate any possible explanation, but there were some solutions that seemed more likely than others.
Denise Crosby
While at the festival, I did have a chance to talk, briefly, to Denise Crosby who had been in Star Trek: The Next Generation and who had done a couple of interesting documentaries about Star Trek. I thought it interesting that she traveled the world, literally, talking to people about Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s vision of world harmony. National origin, ethnic origin or religious belief didn’t seem to matter when it came to Star Trek. It is a common bond throughout the world.
Sunday night a number of the speakers were invited to dinner, which I wouldn’t mention except for a bit of irony. As we made our way to the table, I selected a chair and someone commented that it was as far from Stan as I could get. Well, that hadn’t been on my mind, and I hadn’t really noticed, but I walked to the other end of the table and selected a chair across the table from Stan.
Earlier, when no one was around, he had said to me that he appreciated my service to the country. I thought that was a nice thing for him to mention, especially since some of our beliefs about UFOs are at the opposite of the spectrum.
Proving that Stan and I are at opposite ends, I had said to him, at the hotel one morning, “Aztec? Really?”
We had a brief, but not acrimonious debate about the case, with Stan saying, “Yes, Aztec.”
Anyway, we sat down there and about five or ten minutes after we had, someone said, “You seem to be getting along.”
Stan said, “Of course. We are gentlemen.”
At the meal, we avoided the topics we knew that could grow heated and discussed some points in general, a little about the Levelland sightings, and some of the history that seems to interest us both.
Those at the table, who expected some fireworks, were probably disappointed in that. But hey, we were there to eat and socialize and not debate the reality of MJ-12 or the Aztec UFO landing.
I did sit in on one of David Rudiak’s presentations about the Ramey memo, which I found interesting. He went to the trouble to point out other interpretations of it and why he accepted, or rejected, the conclusions drawn by others. This seemed to be a presentation that gave the facts and though I knew what he believed, I thought the program was fair. His history of the events leading up to the Roswell crash and the newspaper articles about it from around the country was fascinating.
Random Thoughts and Observations:
The vendors, out in the parking lot, and there seemed to be fewer this year, complained that the people were not spending their money as freely as in years past. Inside they seemed a little more cautious about what they bought as well but I found many who were interested in my books.
I did notice that gas, on the north side of Roswell was selling for about $2.96 but on the south side and out west, it was going for $3.13 to about $3.21. I don’t know why it was so much more on one side of town, but the difference was enough that I would think you’d drive over to the other side to buy it cheaper.
It seemed that it was hotter this year and the hotel was a different one. If asked, I don’t know if there was anything significantly different between the two, though this year’s inn was just off Main Street which might have made it a tad quieter.
Frank Kimbler and Martin Dreyer
I also met a fellow, Martin Dreyer, from New Zealand, who I have been talking to on the telephone for a decade and a half. It was nice to put a face to the voice, and he has a real interest in the Roswell case, often asking the difficult questions. He did take pictures of the Saturday night panel for me.
Frankie Rowe, having moved to Roswell, showed up a number of times and I have a number of nice chats with her. She wanted to show me a “magazine” from 1938 proving that her father had been a firefighter. She seemed to think that I questioned this… I told her that I have a page from one of the logs at the fire station dated June 1947 that proved her father had worked there. It had never been a question for me.
I did see Yvonne Smith briefly, said hello, and that was about it. We were on opposite sides of the museum and our schedules seemed to conflict slightly.
Derrel Sims and I were on opposite sides of the museum as well. He came up to me and said that he had appreciated my service. Again, I thought that was a nice thing to do.
And I did see Dr. Frank Thayer who is listed as one of the co-authors of the book about the Aztec crash. We spoke briefly and he told me that Scott Ramsey hadn’t wanted to send me a copy of the book because I would negative about it. I don’t know if that means that Scott thought his information weak (doubtful) or that he thought I wouldn’t give it a fair reading. I did read it and found the evidence to be weak, so Scott was right but for the wrong reasons.
The main thing, though, seems to be Julie’s illness. There was a lot of concern for her by many there. She had done such a good job of organizing everything that her staff could step right in without missing a beat. I can’t think of a thing they might have overlooked, which is a testament to Julie’s organizational skills.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Travis Walton and Me

While at this most recent Roswell Festival (2012), I had a chance to sit down with Travis Walton. I knew that he had been more than a little annoyed with The Abduction Enigma and our reporting on the Walton abduction case. In fact, last year, he wouldn’t even speak to me, not that I really attempted to engage him in conversation. Had I done so then, he might well have talked to me.

This year, however, he was with Steve Pierce who had been one of those on the wood cutting crew and who had witnessed the abduction. Steve had become the center of a small controversy about the case in recent months, and I thought this would be a good time to talk with him about that. In fact, I engaged him in conversation the first opportunity that I had.

Travis Walton at the 2011 Roswell Festival.
I worried, however, that Travis might have seen this and think I was digging for dirt on the abduction. I was more interested in what Steve had to say about Philip Klass and Klass’ attempt to induce Steve to say it was a hoax. With that in mind, I walked over to Travis’ table and sat down in the vacant seat.
I opened the conversation by asking, “Are you still mad at me?”
Travis explained that he thought I (and by I, I mean Russ Estes, Bill Cone and me) had relied too heavily on Klass’ arguments about the case. Travis, I think, didn’t believe we had given him a fair shake.

Russ Estes in Roswell in 1997.
That might well be, and of course, we were writing about the alternative explanations for alien abduction, meaning we were writing from the point of view that alien abduction had terrestrial explanations. We used many of the sources available, but Travis didn’t think we had used his book and explanations enough in our reporting.
I did tell him early on in our conversation that my interest in talking to Steve was to get his side of the Klass story and I wasn’t looking for new information on the abduction. That said, we talked a little more about the case.
Yes, it does seem that the first, failed lie detector test might have been more about the operator’s observations of Travis’ reactions to the questions and not anything the machine showed. It might be that the first operator was injecting his own personal bias into his interpretation of the results. I do know that often the lie detector is used as a way to encourage the guilty to confess.
So, the results of that first test might have been skewed by Travis’ reactions to the events of that week and by the operator’s belief that there is no alien abduction. To him anything to suggest otherwise must be a lie. In other words, he based his opinion, not on the results of the machine but on his opinions about UFOs.
And there was the second, passed lie detector test which I mention here in the interest of fairness. And a third test, some twenty or so years later that was also passed.
Anyway, the riff that I had created in the late 20th century had been repaired now, early in the 21st. We shook hands and Travis understood that I was not seeking information about the abduction but about Klass’ communication with Steve Pierce.
We did talk about the efficacy of the polygraph and I suggested that I knew a way to test if a lie told over a long period became so ingrained that the machine would not detect it. He said that such experiments had been done by giving lie detector tests to prisoners in an attempt to gauge the way a lie might become, for the teller, the same as the truth.
I was surprised that Travis could discuss such a thing at such a high level, which is not to say that I was surprised by his intelligence. I was surprised that he had been reading, or had access to, psychological journals. These are usually quite expensive and often not “light” reading, not to mention easily available.
And, I’m not sure the validity of those tests. I think a better experiment would be to use Vietnam “wannabes.” These are guys who tell horrific tales of Vietnam combat to families, friends and to support groups. They clog the VA system taking up spaces for real veterans who have real needs.
But there are records that can be checked and by accessing those records we can compare their tales with the facts. In some cases those men were clerks or cooks and while they did serve in Vietnam, they did not have a combat role. Some of these wannabes had served in the Army but not in Vietnam. And in more than a few extreme cases, they didn’t even serve in the military.
The point is that they have been telling the stories for decades and might have become so comfortable with their tales of combat that their lies won’t register… Or maybe, sitting hooked up to the machine, their body would betray them, revealing their lies. I think this might be a more accurate way to test the theory and is something that hasn’t been done, as far as I know.
Kathleen Marden
So, as I say, Travis and I shook hands. If there had been a “feud” it was now over. Later, and by later I mean Sunday evening, I was having dinner at the Cattle Baron (which I mention only because a. I get to plug the Cattle Baron and b. I can mention that I was sitting at a table with Stan Friedman, Kathleen Marden and Stan’s son) when Travis walked up to the table to say, “Hello,” to me. We shook hands again, proving what a class act Travis is.
I asked if he remembered when we met in Germany and he said he did. We didn’t see much of each other because of the schedules, but he did remember. Just a little aside to suggest that we had met a long time ago.
If you ask me today what I think about the Walton abduction, I will tell you that if alien abduction is real, I would expect it to be more like that experienced by Travis, or Betty and Barney Hill. A one-time thing that is more of a target of opportunity than these decades long experiences told by so many others. I would tell you that I believe that alien abduction has a terrestrial explanation, or rather terrestrial explanations but that is just my opinion. I would concede that the Walton experience is quite strange.
But I would note here that most hoaxes are confessed eventually. In the Walton case, you have a number of young men, who are now much older, and yet they have not broken ranks. The Santilli film is an admitted hoax. I can’t tell you the number of UFO photographs that have been admitted to be hoaxes, including those that have fooled some very smart people. Or the number of hoaxes created by skeptics to prove that we are credulous. With this case, there have been no defections from the ranks (and we’ll explore my discussions with Steve Pierce about that later).
I don’t plan to engage in a long debate about the details of the Walton abduction. I do have an autographed version of the updated book that Travis gave me a decade and a half ago, which might explain why he thought we should have used more of his information.
I am glad that Travis, who was once more than a little annoyed with me, and I have reached a new understanding. I really don’t like to offend people (though I seem to do it quite easily and much more often than I care to admit) and I have taken the sting out of some of my words written quite a while ago. I guess it just shows that sometimes you have to talk to one another in person so that everyone is on the same page.