(Blogger’s Note: This was a particularly difficult post to write. I have great respect for Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. French’s nearly three decades of military service including fighting in two wars. The problems arise, however, when we look into his claims of participation in UFO investigations and his claims of educational background. I have emailed him three times, including a draft of this article, asking for comment. He has failed to respond. It is with great reluctance that I post the following.)
Since the Citizen Hearing in Washington, D.C., I have looking into the background of retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. French. Here was a guy who was saying some amazing things about the Air Force investigation into UFOs and his
participation in it. He was talking about how he had faked UFO sighting
solutions, his personal knowledge of the Roswell UFO crash and how he had a
hand in writing the “Blue Book.” He seemed to think that it was a document with
a blue cover, and while the various incarnations of the official UFO
investigation did produce reports, there was never anything that was actually
the Blue Book.
|Richard French at the Citizen Hearing|
His comments about there being two alien craft that crashed in Roswell, including one that was shot down by an experimental fighter, were quickly published all over the Internet pushing his name in front of many others. Additional comments about his involvement in UFO research, or rather debunking of UFO sightings, on orders by the Air Force, were accepted as authentic by many without bothering to check his credentials or if his story was consistent. It added a new level of conspiracy to the already cluttered landscape of the conspiracy minded.
While in Washington, D.C. for the Citizen Hearing, he was interviewed by Kerry Cassidy and that interview has been posted to the Internet. By watching it, we can
see where all the problems lie with this tale. According to what he has
said to her, he had spent 27½ years in the Air Force and that he spent most of
his time as an Operations Officer. His records do not confirm he spent so much
time in operations and that is really a trivial point. He also said that he was
the youngest officer in the Air Force to hold the position as operations
officer. This makes no sense because he doesn’t specify at what level he held
the job though he does say that it was with the 8th Tactical Fighter
Squadron in Germany. That isn’t exactly a high level position and I would be
surprised that he was the youngest ever to hold it. This seems like so much
hyperbole to me.
|French swearing to tell the truth|
In response to a question at 7:06 during the Cassidy interview, French said, “I have several tours. Three flying tours in Korea and about six or seven in Vietnam. Therefore I have a lot of stories. I have over 680 combat missions. I think that is more than twice as many as anyone else.”
This is not hyperbole and is not accurate. It is just wrong. According to his records, he entered active duty in the middle of 1952, and in August 1952 was assigned as an administration officer in FEAF (Far East Air Force… meaning Korea… or Japan supporting operations in Korea). He did receive, according to the records, the awards that suggest service on the ground in Korea. There is no evidence that he was a pilot in Korea.
In fact, according to the available records, he didn’t enter flight school until 1954, and since that school lasted about a year, there is no way he could have deployed to Korea as a pilot. The war ended in July 1953. He also attended advanced training at Nellis Air Force Base for eight additional months, meaning that it was mid-1955, at the earliest he could have been assigned as a fighter pilot.
The records I have stop in 1968 but they do indicate a short tour in Vietnam in 1965, where he was awarded an Air Medal. The citation said, in part, “Captain Richard E. French distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in sustained aerial flight as a combat crew member in Southeast Asia from 18 July 1965 to 14 August 1965…”
It is unclear from the record if he was only in Southeast Asia for that nearly month long period, or if it was part of another, longer assignment. It is not clear that he was in even Vietnam at the time which means the flights could have originated from an Air Force base outside Vietnam with flights over it. His records do indicate, however, that he was an assistant operations officer with the 478th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico during this time. So, it seems, based on the records, that it was not a full tour in Vietnam but a temporary duty assignment.
There is a citation in the record which places him in Vietnam in 1968, but I have nothing else about this. This could easily be and probably is a full tour in Vietnam. I have no records for anything beyond that, though it was in 1969 that Richard Nixon began to wind down American participation in the war. Given all this, it would seem that French can claim two “flying” tours in Vietnam. There might be another, but I have seen no record of it and as I say.
At 7:38 in the Cassidy interview, French said, “I have 121 American and foreign decorations. I look like MacArthur if I put everything on.”
That seems excessive and by my count, he is entitled to a minimum of 50 American and foreign decorations. This count is based on the records and the
photograph of French taken in 1972. I am sure that this count is incomplete but
it is far short of the claim. Unless there is additional information about it,
including a complete list of all awards and decorations, then I would view this
as hyperbole… as “resume inflation.”
|Official USAF photo|
The real trouble begins when we move away from his documented military career and into the claims he makes about UFOs, his part in the investigation of them, and his orders to debunk UFO sightings. At the Washington Citizen Hearing, French said that he was one of the few to see the Majestic Report referring of course to the Majestic-Twelve documents and what many of us believe to be a hoax. French talked about a meeting Truman held with a bunch of high level people including all the Chiefs of Staff about the Roswell case. They wrote a short report, which he claims to be the only living person to have seen (which of course makes it impossible to verify). He didn’t attend the meeting, and given his military career, I don’t know when he would have had the opportunity to see it, if you believe such a document ever existed.
About 18:50 into this Cassidy interview, he explains why they wanted to keep the Roswell UFO crash secret. Here is where another problem develops. According to what he said to others in other interviews, one of the alien spacecraft that crashed near Roswell in July 1947 had been shot down by a new weapon that worked along the lines of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). But when asked why the government kept the crash a secret, he said it was because we had no defense against the aliens and their craft. First he was telling us we could shoot them down and later saying that we had no defense against them.
Demonstrating that he had very little knowledge of Project Blue Book, at 20:07 in the interview he said, “At that time the Blue Book… had a blue cover but it contained all these different stories…” Here he seems to be suggesting a real blue book rather than an investigation of UFOs. He doesn’t get that Blue Book was a code name and not an actual book. He said, “Official Air Force Blue Book. It’s the Air Force official report on UFOs.” He even claimed authorship of part of it.
It would seem that an officer who had worked on the project would have known exactly what it was. True, there were a number of final reports, one for Project Sign and one for Project Grudge, not to mention a number of status reports issued in the early days, but there never was a “blue book.”
During that interview he said that he had just graduated from college when he went into the Air Force. He said in another interview that he attended Oregon State University. According to the university, he attended from 1947 to the winter of 1952 but didn’t receive a degree. Now, I know that sometimes the universities make mistakes, but the evidence from the official documentation doesn’t suggest a degree. While it is always possible that he finished his degree work after his military service, there is currently nothing in the record to indicate he earned his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University.
He also mentioned that he had two Ph.Ds, one in philosophy and another in astrophysics, “from Kings College online education system.” I searched the Internet for any reference remotely like Kings College and found one in Great Britain that offered a degree in astrophysics, but in an email response to me, they wrote that they do not offer an online doctorate in astrophysics.
At about 36:00 in the interview he said did research at MIT and Stanford… this work was research on cancer and that he and another fellow invented a device that would get 50 miles to a gallon of gas in an old eight-cylinder Buick. He said that he couldn’t sell it because they invented when gas was thirty cents a gallon, but today, with the pressure to increase gas mileage, it would seem that they could. He said that is was some kind of light ring that went into the carburetor that created oxygen so that the fuel mixture burned more efficiently. There is currently no evidence to back up these claims.
As I listened to his interview with Cassidy, I was impressed by the robust tale that he told. It just didn’t seem to be the sort of thing that would be invented by the average guy. But then he mentioned his book, Macedonian Gray. Here’s the description from Amazon.com:
This book is far more than a simple battle scene narration. It's a story embracing courage, love, and a penetrating view of the human mind under extremes of stress. The central figure, a jet fighter pilot, spends years in spine chilling Korean and Vietnam combat plus cold war actions around the world. A naturally endowed psychic, he sees flashes of incidents past and future that he doesn't understand and fears to share. Among these are fortelling President Kennedy's death and predicting his own violent combat death that is vividly related in the opening chapter. The story flashes back to narrative form and follows the hero's life through a series of aerial actions, a failed marriage, romantic episodes and incidents, and a friendship of warriors that lasts through thick and thin. It reaches a startling conclusion when, after death, the man's immortal spirit endures afterlife pain and eventual reincarnation.
In creating the “hero” of his book, he used autobiographical information to add a note of authenticity to the story. Many authors incorporate bits of their lives into the books they write. Here I think that French then turned the tables believing that some of the embellishments added for characterization were now traits he held as well. He invented a character and then became that character.
What disturbs me about all this is that it is clear that French served in the Air Force and did so honorably, but once that service ended he began to invent additional accomplishments. For some reason, he decided that he had been a member of Project Blue Book, though there is no evidence to support this. He decided that he had seen some Majestic-12 documents, ones that no one else has seen, but has offered no proof this was true. He decided that he talked to the late Philip Corso about UFOs and that he, French, somehow knew that Corso was telling the truth, though he gets much of the Corso story wrong.
He gave us a version of what happened at Roswell, but clearly he couldn’t have been involved in 1947 simply because he was not in the military at the time, wasn’t in the area, and had no reason to know about it. His tales, now repeated throughout the world, are second hand at best and pure fiction at worst. I am baffled why a man with the military record he has would embellish it to the point where it is almost unbelievable and insert himself into projects and incidents that he clearly could not have been involved in. We see some of the fiction in his claims of flying tours in Korea, and see those fictions grow as he moves through his career.
But I want to be fair here. Let me point out that the man had a distinguished career and was an Air Force officer. He began serving in 1951, as a second lieutenant commissioned after taking ROTC in college (though I should note that he entered the Army Reserve as a PVT in June 1948). That lead to an active duty assignment in the middle of 1952 and lasted until he retired, as a lieutenant colonel in August 1974. He served first with the AFOSI and later as a fighter pilot. He served in Korea, was awarded the decorations that would go with such an assignment and served in the FEAF (Far East Air Force). There is no question that he served in Asia during that war but he held a ground assignment.
In 1954, or about six to eight months after the shooting war ended, he was sent to flight school. Total training time, including his advance transition into the F-86 was about eighteen months.
From there he had a number of military assignments, including those you’d expect from an Air Force officer. He was a flight commander, a squadron commander and an operations officer at various bases and in various foreign countries
The records I have only cover his career until late 1968. I will note that according to the records, he was awarded a Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 24 Air Medals and a Purple Heart. Unlike so many others, he had a fine and distinguished career that required no hyperbole. He was an Air Force officer, he served in two wars, and was decorated for that service. There would be no reason for him to complicate his life by inventing tales about his service, what he did, and what he saw.
What this demonstrates is that even a man with a fine military career will invent tales to bring the spotlight on himself. Money doesn’t seem to be the motivation. It is the power of the spotlight and those who will believe practically anything as long as the message is one they wish to hear. Unfortunately, he now joins the ranks of Robert Willingham, Mel Noel, Gerald Anderson, Cliff Stone and Frank Kaufmann. The evidence is not there to support French’s tale of UFO involvement and inside knowledge. All he has done is muddy the waters even more for those of us trying to get a clear picture.