UFOs and presidents: A secret history

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Could President Truman have known the story behind the front page news from July 28, 1952?

For decades, pulp fiction writers, film-makers, and countless UFO researchers have maintained that a veil of secrecy surrounds the government’s knowledge of extraterrestrial beings. But does this veil – if it exists – mask more than 70 years worth of verifiable findings from even the office of the President of the United States? Author Larry Holcombe believes the answer is “yes”, and he has set forth the evidence for that belief in his book, The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama (St. Martin’s Press). The Los Angeles Post-Examiner recently spoke with Holcombe about his extensive research, which included weeks spent gleaning records in several presidential libraries. Holcombe will be one of the featured speakers at this Saturday’s Mysteries of Space & Sky Conference.  The highly regarded annual UFO conference will be held in Gambrills, Maryland.

LAPX: Thank you for taking some time to speak with us today. To start, would you please tell us about your background? What led to your interest in UFO’s?

LH: When I was in junior high, I found a couple of Major Donald Keyhoe’s books – Flying Saucers From Outer Space and Flying Saucers Are Real – in my school library. Keyhoe was a retired Marine aviator who wrote for a number of publications in the late 1940’s. When he started to write about the flying saucer phenomenon for True Magazine, Keyhoe was a skeptic. But within a year, he became convinced that the Air Force was concealing UFO evidence.

When I graduated from high school, the Vietnam War was in progress. I joined the National Guard and served 8 years there. Then I went into selling commercial construction products, and eventually represented a manufacturer out of Chicago as a military sales manager. I closed out my business career developing the military sales for this company and traveled all over.

UFO's and PresidentsLAPX: In your interaction with the military, did you ever talk about your interest in UFOs?

LH: I had some conversation, but very little. Unfortunately now, I look back on it and see that other people do the same thing; they keep it to themselves. They don’t talk about it, because it may affect their careers. A good friend who retired as a full colonel in the Air Force has a number of high-ranking officer friends who have said they are willing to talk with me. They say, “Yeah, I’d love to talk with him, but I don’t really know anything about the subject.” Whether you’ve got 3 or 4 stars on your shoulder, if you don’t have a need to know, then you don’t know.

LAPX: Your book is about UFOs and the presidents. Do the presidents have a need to know?

LH: That’s a very good question. Let me answer it this way. President Truman undoubtedly had a need to know.

It is believed Truman set up an inside group, called MJ-12 or Majestic 12. This group was made up of six eminent scientists and six high-ranking military officers, including General Nathan Twining, and it charged them with handling all flying saucer issues. This was in 1947, right after Roswell and right after the National Security Act was passed and the CIA was created. Truman was deeply involved in it, although you won’t find any Truman biographer who will talk about it. There are even film clips of Truman talking about flying saucers. And there were world-wide headlines being made during the Truman Administration over flying saucers. The famous 1952 Washington merry-go-round, where Washington was overflown by numbers of these crafts. Truman got his military aide, General Robert Landry, and said (Truman had a salty tongue), “Hey get out there to find out just what the Hell is going on. I want this information to come back to me and me only.” It would strictly be handled by the office of the President.

When Truman left office, Eisenhower came in under the same general guidelines. It is my belief, based on my research, that the flying saucer issue had become so big that, after Eisenhower came into office, control of the information was slowly stripped away from the White House and placed into the hands of the intelligence community and the military industrial complex. The military industrial complex is as capable — or more — of keeping secrets than the intelligence community. They are very, very good at it.

LAPX: Is that where this information still resides?

President Harry S. Truman charged Robert Landry to, "find out what the Hell is going on".
President Harry S. Truman charged Robert Landry to, “find out what the Hell is going on”.

LH: I think that’s where it resides now, so today, the presidents really know very little of it. I think it depends on who the president is, how favorable they are looked upon by the intelligence community. President George H.W. Bush was highly regarded by the intelligence community.

LAPX: George H. W. Bush had been CIA Director at one point.

LH: Yes, but only for one year. People forget that. They think that, because he was Director of the CIA, that he had all the data. Bush was only director for one year, but CIA headquarters is named after him. So he was truly on the inside. I think people like Bill Clinton were frowned upon by the intelligence community, and knew very little of it. Jimmy Carter, who had a UFO sighting, said that he would open up all UFO files once he got into office, yet he learned nothing from it. Reagan probably was briefed on it in some detail. But I really think all contemporary presidents, with the exception of Richard Nixon, probably have only limited knowledge of it. I think there are some people in government that have a great deal of knowledge. Former Vice President Dick Cheney probably has a great deal of knowledge of the UFO subject, as may Donald Rumsfeld. I think they are two people on the political side that are, and have been, involved in it.

LAPX: You’ve mentioned a number of the presidents from Truman to Clinton. Let me ask a specific question about President Clinton. There is a story that Clinton reached out to the intelligence community through his friend, Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell. Is there anything to this story?

LH: Well, the only story there is that when Clinton took office, he said to Webb Hubbell, “I want you to find two things for me as quickly as you can: who killed JFK and what really happened at Roswell.” There was probably more to the conversation, but the bottom line was Hubble came up empty. He couldn’t get anything. So here you have a President of the United States asking for information on UFO’s, and he in essence is being denied the files or told they don’t exist.

LAPX: Have you ever been to Roswell?

Major Jesse Marcel hold some of the debris recovered from the 1947 incident near Roswell, New Mexico.
Major Jesse Marcel holds some of the debris recovered from the 1947 incident near Roswell, New Mexico. (Roswell Daily Record)

LH: I have been to Roswell every year for the Roswell festival. I’ve been invited by the International UFO Museum and Research Center every year since 2011 for their 3 or 4 day event, to lecture at the Museum. They gave me a lifetime membership this past July.

LAPX: The museum in Roswell is quite interesting. I know they have scores of letters and affidavits posted throughout the main hall which validates, in one form or another, that something did happen there in 1947 which doesn’t follow the official party line.

LH: Well, Roswell has some 200 witnesses who have come forward. Some may not be totally believable. People, after so many years, can stretch the truth. But Roswell is of special interest to me. I am convinced that Roswell was an extraterrestrial event. I can’t prove it. I can’t give you a piece of the saucer. But there is so much evidence that that’s what it was; and the Air Force has lied so many times that instead of building their credibility, they’ve gone a long way to destroying their credibility.

You get all sorts of arguments over Roswell, but there are 6-7 basic facts that when taken together make it very, very hard to support what the Air Force said crashed there.

LAPX: Between the economy and two continuing wars, both Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama have certainly had their hands full. Have either one of them expressed any interest in the UFO phenomena?

LH: I think that George W. Bush was so involved with terrorism after 9-11 that he gave very little consideration to the subject. When asked about it once, his reply was, “Go ask Cheney”.

When I wrote the book, I thought that Obama had very little background knowledge. That the intelligence community would not trust him or give him much information at all. But during his recent appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, when asked about the subject, his response was something like, “They don’t let us talk about that.” He said it in sort of a joking way, but that’s how he brushed it off. “They don’t let us talk about that”. Well, who is “they”? So I think there is probably a lot of truth in what he said. That he has been briefed to some limited degree, but how much a president is briefed now depends on who the president is and how much information they want to give him.

I know this may sound conspiratorial, but the people I call the keepers of the secret call the shots on how much a president knows. If there was a major UFO sighting by thousands of people, like there was in Phoenix, the president would probably be briefed on that; to what extent I do not know.

LAPX: You’re talking about intrigue here, and in my mind – that brings us back to Richard Nixon.

LH: My book is actually built around the Nixon administration and what I believe was a desire to release at least some information on an extraterrestrial presence. That’s another story in and of itself, but my research shows that Nixon supported using a made for TV documentary to expose an alien presence. But then, along came Watergate and that all went away. The documentary, by the way, was eventually made, with Rod Serling as the host.

Richard Nixon with comedian Jackie Gleason.
Comedian Jackie Gleason with Richard Nixon.

LAPX: Aside from this documentary, I’ve heard that Nixon may have shared some of this information with one of his closest friends.

LH: We know that Nixon thought that the government was concealing UFO information. He was very concerned and irritated that the government was not divulging some of the information they had on an extraterrestrial presence.

Now it is clear to me that he had a great interest in the UFO subject. He also had a very good friend, Jackie Gleason, who was extremely interested in the UFO subject. They played golf together, and I think it’s reasonable to believe they talked extensively about the subject. Gleason called his house in New York the Mother Ship, and some of the smaller out buildings looked like flying saucers. When Gleason died, his wife gave 1600 volumes on UFOs to the University of Miami library.

LAPX: Does your book deal with presidents prior to Truman and the events of 1948?

Yes; but it only goes back to 1941 in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. I’ve heard the stories about George Washington going into the woods at Valley Forge and having some sort of an alien encounter; it could be. You’ve got to be skeptical but also have an open mind with these things. If you don’t, you won’t do a decent job as a researcher.

My book goes back to 1941, and the first incident that I report was told by a lady named Charlotte Mann. Mann said her grandfather, who was a Baptist minister, was called to an airplane crash in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. When he got there, it was not an aircraft as he knew it but a disc-shaped object which had crashed. Two or three very small men – 3 1/2-4 foot tall – occupants with big heads and big eyes, were dead, laying on the ground. So he went ahead and said a prayer for them. The fire department was there. Photographs had been taken, and then the military showed up. And when the military showed up, they confiscated everything, including the photographers’ film. Then the military commander got everyone together and said, “Folks, this is a very serious matter of national security. You are never to speak of it again to anyone at any time.”

If it wasn't Japanese airplanes, what were coastal batteries shooting at during the Battle of Los Angeles?
If it wasn’t Japanese aircraft, what were coastal batteries shooting at during the Battle of Los Angeles?

Anyway, Charlotte Mann, who was a very small child at the time, remembers that she grew up with this being whispered about among the family from time to time. Her grandmother told her the whole story as she was dying of cancer. That’s the first incident and everything checks out as far as people have been able to check it out.

Then I go into the 1942 Battle of Los Angeles, where some 1600 rounds of anti-aircraft artillery were fired at a strange object that flew over the coast of Southern California. There was a lot of war news in 1942, but it was a pretty big deal and reported in the newspapers extensively. Some people were even reported to have had heart attacks over the event.

LAPX: So your book deals with both verifiable facts and informed speculation?

LH: There are letters, which are not documented, that I do put in the book that I got from Dr. Robert Woods, a retired executive from McDonnell Douglas aircraft. Dr. Woods’ interest was started because McDonnell Douglas had a stake in UFOs. They wanted to know what the propulsion systems were, and they wanted to find out before Lockheed found out. It was a pure business decision, so McDonnell Douglas spent about $500,000, and Bob Woods headed that effort up.

When Bob retired, he became so enamored with the UFO question that he started his effort in authenticating leaked documents. Well, there are several leaked documents in his possession that were between President Roosevelt (FDR) and General George C. Marshall.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (NY Public Library)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (New York Public Library)

In one letter General Marshall told FDR that two objects had been recovered after the Battle of Los Angeles, one by the Navy in the sea between Los Angeles and Catalina Island, and a similar object that they recovered in the San Bernadino mountains. I think his exact words were that the objects bore no resemblance to anything conventional. He went on to say that the only explanation is that they are other-worldly. I think those were his terms.

I also discuss that Roosevelt wrote George Marshall and said that, as soon as the United States was victorious in the war, which obviously he was consumed with, that they (the army and the government) would have the fruit of these wonders that we have come into possession of. And I think he even mentioned atomic weapons. But that was before anybody knew about the atomic bomb, and I’m assuming here that if Roosevelt talked about atomic power, he knew about it secretly. So he presumed that that’s what these craft must have been powered by. But that’s an assumption on my part.

The reason I put that in the book is because the terminology seemed correct for the time. For some reason, this subject seems to generate a lot of people coming forward and hoaxing things. I’m not a psychologist; I don’t understand why people do such ridiculous things. It does seem to occur quite often, so you have to be very careful. But because these documents had a ring of authenticity to them, I did include them in the book.

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