Thursday, August 24, 2017

General Exon and Disappearing Airplanes

Since I’m off on this General Exon rant, I thought I’d add another level to it. As I went back over the material that I had gathered in all forms which are the telephone interviews, emails and letters, and a personal meeting at Wright-
Arthur Exon
Patterson Air Force Base, I came across some information that hadn’t really registered at the time (though I did provide Philip Klass with a complete transcript of the interview, so he missed it too). It does, however, affect the overall importance of the information that he provided about the Roswell UFO crash.

First, a bit of a back story here. In my conversations with him, he mentioned that he was going to be at Wright-Pat for a golf tournament. Since Ohio is a lot closer to my home than California, I arranged to meet him there. He had suggested a time and I was at the front gate early enough that I wouldn’t miss him. The security police were checking IDs and asking for those of us who wished to enter the base to have some sort of a sponsor. I called Exon (in these pre-cell phone days), but there was no answer in the VOQ (Visiting Officer’s Quarters). Though I hadn’t wanted to do it I finally flashed my military ID, which, of course, negated the problem. Since I had an Air Force ID card (at the time I was still serving with the Air Force), they had no problem with me entering the base unescorted, and issued the temporary pass for me and my vehicle.

I drove to the VOQ, knocked on the door, but there was no answer. We’d had an appointment, but it seemed he was not interested in keeping it. As I turned to leave, he stepped into the hall, returning to his quarters. Trapped, so to speak, he had no choice but to go to lunch as we had planned. I always wondered why, after agreeing to meet me, he worked so hard to dodge me. He hadn’t counted on me having a military ID so that I could enter the base unescorted.

I’m not sure of the relevance of this little anecdote, but relate it anyway. I wondered if he had been “talked” to by some of his pals at a higher level, or if there had been an official visit of some sort that cautioned him about talking with us about UFOs and Roswell. That doesn’t prove that what he said was the whole truth, only that someone might not have appreciated his candor in talking with me and some of those others.

Now, on to the real point here. In my first conversation with him, back on May 19, 1990, he told me about four aircraft that had disappeared as they attempted to intercept a UFO. Given that, I had asked, “All four of airplanes disappeared?”

He said, “Yeah. And they don’t know what happened. If they went out oversees or out over the water which was not likely.”

“They were scrambled out of Kentucky?”

“Kentucky or Tennessee,” he said. “There were four of them that were scrambled. They were all lost.”

I asked, “Nobody ever found any wreckage or have any clues as to what happened to them?”

“That’s right. Not that I know of. That’s all been investigated before and it’s a matter of record and it’s kind of a mysterious thing.”

Well, it’s not a matter of any record that I can find. In all my searching, I never came across a story of four aircraft, scrambled to identify an intruder, that disappeared in the way he described. Exon said that it had happened in the mid-1950s, when he was assigned to the Pentagon, so he thought that was where the story originated.

My theory on this is that Exon was talking about Mantell. I say this because four aircraft were involved in the intercept and that it took place in Kentucky. Other than that, there isn’t much of a match. None of the planes disappeared and only Mantell was lost. Although we don’t know exactly what happened, there is a good theory about that.

I suppose an alternative theory is that this had something to do with the Flatwoods UFO case from September 1952, but there is no good documentation about aircraft disappearing in the big fur ball (fighter pilot talk for the aerial dogfight) that allegedly took place).

At any rate, I have found nothing that truly fits in with what Exon said. I think these were fragmented memories put together as people asked him questions about UFOs and what he knew about them. Bits of things that he overheard and put together but were unrelated. Aircraft scrambled to intercept UFOs, aircraft in Kentucky crashing while chasing UFOs, and aircraft disappearing over water (think Flight 19 and the Bermuda Triangle).

While this doesn’t overly affect what he said about other aspects of the UFO phenomena, we do have the notes that suggest his discussion of the UFO investigative teams which was technically true is not completely accurate. This is the problem when we begin to access memories that are decades old. Sometimes they are accurate, sometimes they are partially true, and sometimes they are cobbled together from fragments that might not be connected. It’s why documentation from the era is so important. Without that, we end up with some truly interesting tales that might not be completely grounded in reality.


Mr. Sweepy! said...

I read this 3 times and still scotching my head about the 4 missing planes. My first thought since Wright-Patterson is close to KY and TN, I wonder if true, if Exon intentionally changed the planes base from Wright-Pat. Second thought is the planes were not missing at all but moved to another base. In short, no accident.

Last, are you second guessing the creditability of Exon? If you are thinking yes, I would understand after reading this.

cda said...

Your last paragraph says it all. Confabulation of dates and events. Nothing more need be said.

Brian Bell said...

Exon was born in 1916. Given that you interviewed him in 1990, he would have been 74 years old and still on active duty. The possibility that his memory was failing (due to age) is a very reasonable assumption.

He may have forgotten the details of your visit which is why he was taken aback when he saw you on base. I would say there's a strong possibility that what he told you was a hodge pondge of collective memories and stories. Obviously that raises serious questions about the reliability of his testimony on Roswell or any UFO case and the USAF.

As a simple example of memory failure, before my father passed away in his 80's he had episodes of extreme false memories. He was an avid reader of WWI and WWII combat aviation most of his life and was quite an expert on aircraft history.

He was hospitalized for a minor infection and when he spoke to the clinical staff he told them he flew with the USN in the Pacific and went on to detail very convincing stories about combat with Japanese pilots, their tactics, aircraft, and so on. If you didn't know better, you'd think the stories were absolutely true given their first person accuracy. Yet, it was as a false memory derived from years of studying, reading, and digesting information on aviation. It was technically accurate but was a mash of things he never experienced personally.

KRandle said...

Brian -

What gave you the impression that Exon was still on active duty when I interviewed him. He was a retired officer.

Are you saying that your father was never an Naval aviator? Did he serve in the South Pacific during the Second World War? Was it all some sort of confabulation on his part?

All -

Given what I have learned over the last couple of decades, I find much of it frightening. We need to rely on the available documentation in these cases but must also remember that sometimes the documents are flawed.

Adam S. said...

Hi Kevin,

Did you ever look into any possible ties Exon may have had with the intelligence agencies? I'm just wondering what the possibility is that any information he provided was disinformation versus "hazy memories". I know this question might raise an eyebrow considering his age, but I am curious if any intelligence associations were apparent.


OzinOr said...

Hi, Kevin.

I can certainly understand someone having a false memory. I'm younger than General Exon, and I remember quite clearly that when I was a child in the early 1950s our house was heated by a primitive furnace that was essentially a concrete-lined pit with a thin copper pipe which ran down to the bottom and connected to a tank of fuel oil outside the hose. The oil burned on the floor of the pit which was covered by a metal grate. I know this is possible because we had stoves in the 1960s when I was in the Army that worked on the same principle. I remember the furnace well; I remember standing on the grate to keep warm while getting dressed for school during the winter. The only problem is that my mother, father, and older sister say we never had a device like that. It's a false memory, but right now I can clearly picture the hallway and the grate.

So I concede that false memories happen, and they can be indistinguishable from actual memories. I do think there is a difference, though, between a false memory of a heating device you "saw" when you were seven years old, and the disappearance of four aircraft when you are (presumably) in your 20s or 30s. That's a pretty big event, and I would expect that he would have discussed it with others (assuming it wasn't classified, or classified as confidential) when he was younger, who could have called him on it like my sister did with my memory.

Whether this has anything to do with his memories of "Horsefly" is another matter.

NickJones said...

It sounds like Exon was conflating the Mantell case and the Kinross incident.

Terry the Censor said...

> I do think there is a difference, though, between a false memory of a heating device you "saw" when you were seven years old, and the disappearance of four aircraft when you are (presumably) in your 20s or 30s. That's a pretty big event, and I would expect that he would have discussed it with others

There are several studies of how adults have false/altered memories of famous, much-discussed events such as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Challenger space shuttle explosion, 9/11, etc. And these events were on TV -- we all saw them happen -- not just discussed over a beer with coworkers and pals.

Mr. Sweepy! said...


I read again for the fourth time both of the Exon stories here. You said the planes were missing in the mid 1950's according to Exon. What has been gnarling at me about this if the planes could have me sold as surplus or given to the CIA. The reason in part was the French was in Viet Nam and we gave billions in weapons to help them. Much was in war surplus.

Then what many people didn't realize was the CIA as also building up their own air force or airlines, however you want to describe this. I checked in Wikipedia and over 60 years the CIA had 16 different named air companies. During the 50's the CIA was also active in Central and South America.

In either case, Exon might have heard about missing planes but the reasons and where they went might have been the real secret.