Thursday, April 05, 2007

Major Jesse Marcel, Sr.

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.


Bob Barbanes: said...

Kevin, what year was Pratt's inteview with Marcel? I ask because my father was also in WWII. By the time I got old enough that I could understand his stories (mid-1960s) his memory was extremely faulty. He'd say something inaccurate and my mother would cluck her tongue and go, "Oh Bill, that's not right..." Even now, as a pilot myself I think back to some of the things dad said and go, "That couldn't be right."

My point is that memory is not perfect. Memories get changed, colored, and influenced by current events. Happens to me now, even. We can't be too hard on Marcel.

I don't know why Jesse Sr. might have said those things that are provably wrong. Maybe he was simply remembering it wrong - or maybe he was trying to embellish his past. But as you know, it doesn't matter in the long run.

As far as Roswell is concerned: First he said it was otherworldly debris - after all the years of Buck Rogers sci-fi, they must have been incredibly excited - thrilled, even! - by the PROOF of life on other planets! They must have thought that the news would break wide open and be welcomed with great anticipation by earthlings hungry for just such a revelation. He had no reason to expect that it would be suppressed and even denied.

Instead, the government shut him down. We must be aware of the tremendous pressure Marcel was put under. Wasn't the UCMJ first published in 1947? "Yeah Marcel, we know you already said it was a spaceship. We're gonna hang Ramey's ass for that! Meantime, you WILL say it was a weather balloon, and you better sell it like your life depended on it, bud, nudge-nudge, wink-wink."

You can see "that look" on Marcel's face in the pic of him with the weather balloon debris. Talk about a man under the gun! You can just tell he was lying...and not happy about it one little bit.

I've always believed in Marcel's integrity in the Roswell case. And knowing the military the way we do, I've always felt so incredibly sorry for him. He knew the truth, yet was unable to tell it.

borky said...

Krandle, there's two things I notice about the excerpts you've provided that distinctly remind me of time spent as a student taking notes.

The tone of Jesse Marcel Snr. is very similar to that of a lecturer who's given the same lecture so many times before he's become bored out of his mind.

Basically he doesn't want to be there, and is only giving the damned thing because he feels obliged to, hence his sentences have that gradually pared down, worn out, fade in and fade out, stream of consciousness feel.

Pratt's note-taking of the Marcel Snr. recording, on the other hand, has the feel of a perky student who's convinced he's so utterly fascinated by what's been said he's never go'n'o forget a word of it for the rest of his life, anyway, but he may just as well take down a few jottings to maybe remind himself of the order things were said in, hence he's happily gone along with Marcel Snr.'s gradually pared down, worn out, fade in and fade out, stream of consciousness tone.

KRandle said...

Bob Barbanes -

The Pratt interview was conducted in 1979.

Yes, memories can be faulty and can be influenced by outside sources, but not every memory is and not everyone makes memory mistakes.

I don't pretend to know why Marcel might have said those things. I do know that the tape didn't survive so we don't know if Pratt got the stuff wrong, misheard it or if Marcel said it...

I do know that Marcel didn't make similar claims in later interviews and that what he said about his involvment was accurate.

KRandle said...

Borky -

The stream of consciousness is really the way the transcript is laid out and not necessarily the way Marcel spoke. It is the format of the transcript that leads to most of the confusion and it might be why there are problems with it. I'm also note that those unfamiliar with the military often have mistaken notions about it.

Anyway, I think the flaws in the transcript are more the fault of Pratt than Marcel. But, we'll never know because the tape is gone.

cosmosis66 said...

I have read many, many reports about Marcel and the rest of the Roswell story and it seems no two believers can agree on the string of events. The skeptics pretty much seem to parallel each other. My burning question about Marcel is this. If this man was one of the first people in the world to handle alien wreckage, why would he live his retired life as a tv repairman? He certainly seemed to crave the limelight in 1947. He reportedly never said a word about it until Stanton Friedman dug him out of the woodwork in 1970 (or whatever the date was). My gut feeling is that he knew full well it was terrestrial wreckage he was dealing with. Well that's my two cents worth!

CDA said...

Marcel had not given a thought to the ETH angle in 1947, because at the time (early July 1947) there was no such idea in the public mind about UFO origins. The ETH angle (for Marcel) would have come slowly over the years between 1947 and when Stanton Friedman first interviewed him in early 1978. It may be that he never once considered this angle until STF met him. Marcel could not recall the date of this amazing event, kept no newspaper cuttings, had no photographs or diary of the events and continued his life, seemingly, as if nothing had happened. Yet we are supposed to believe that an event of momentous magnitude and supreme importance to science was kept secret by Marcel and a few other guys in the top military for 3 decades. He never even once informed NICAP or APRO of his knowledge, and never got in touch with the Condon Committee.

So Marcel, according to the gospel of Kevin Randle & others, knew and kept this 'great secret' for all this time, realising full well that another UFO crash could occur at any time and at any location (perhaps in Russia, China, etc).

So yes, your gut feeling is correct. Marcel did know the stuff was terrestrial wreckage and thought no more of it for many years.

Remember that in the Roswell Incident book he claims that the Fort Worth photos first show him with the actual (ET craft) debris then later with the alleged substituted debris. Believe that if you dare.


Unknown said...

After many hours of deliberation I have come up with several other things that cast Marcel in a dim light. Well in my mind anyway. Keep in mind that he was the intelligence officer of the 509th bomb group, supposedly handpicked like the rest of the officers. These are a few of the problems:
1. He spent an entire day in a debris field that he described as 3/4 mile long and 200 yards wide and picked up nothing more than sticks, foil, and rubber.
2. When he was finished, he LEFT a 3/4 mile long by 200 yard wide field of what he believed to be ET material on the ground unguarded.
3. He stopped at his home on the way back to base to show the stuff to his wife and son.
So in one day he committed three acts seriously unbecoming someone who is supposedly of high enough caliber to the intelligence officer of the 509th.
Another thing that has started to bother me is his claim that Ramey took him into the map room while the debris was switched with fake stuff. Why bother to try and trick the man who found the stuff? He of all people should be more trustworthy than whoever it was that brought the fake stuff in and took away the real stuff. And in all the accounts that I have read about Marcel he has never mentioned that anyone ever told him not to talk about or that he was ever debriefed about the incident. Debriefing is stand military practice after anything odd that happens and this was certainly odd!!

Doug said...

I surmise that Sheridan Cavitt didn't tell them it was a balloon in 1947 because he didn't wish to directly contradict his boss, Major Jesse Marcel. This seems to me like perfectly normal human behavior. And after Major Marcel's 1979 interviews, Cavitt may simply not have wanted to be involved at all in the UFO controversy. This also seems like normal human behavior to me. But Cavitt's affidavit in response to the 1994 Air Force investigation was definite that it was a small debris field, a small amount of debris, and it looked balloon-like to him.

Major Marcel described the debris to his son at ~2 AM on July 7th, 1947 as being from a "flying saucer", which indicates to me a prior consciousness on his part of UFOs.

It is my best guess that Major Marcel, whose good military career really needed no embellishment, made an honest error in judgment in 1947, and then 30+ years later told some embellished stories about his military experiences.

09rja said...

Good article Mr. Randle. My thoughts on Marcel have always been a little mixed. On the one hand there is little doubt he recovered some debris out in the desert. On the other hand, some of the claims he made about his background make me wonder how accurate his claims about the material recovered are. (I.e. that a sledgehammer would bounce off of pieces thinner than the "foil on a pack of cigarettes".)

I think he was a honorable guy who served his country well.....but a lot of guys of that generation (and I hate to generalize here) like to tell a good story.