|Recently, in Part 1 of this series, I discussed the discovery of US military records which comment liberally on “unidentified flying objects”, usually shortened to just “UFOs”, during the Vietnam War. These records, discovered by myself and Boston based research Barry Greenwood, were originally created by all four branches of the US armed forces. The sorts of records we have found include “Histories” and “Chronologies”, “Mission Reports”, “Patrol Logs”, “Daily Staff|
Journals”, and so-called “Lessons Learned” publications. Also represented in these finds are “Project CHECO” publications, specific to the United States Air Force (USAF). Most of these records have come from either the Defence Technical Information Center (DTIC) or National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This came on top of other ongoing work which dealt specifically with unresolved questions around the USAF’s accidental strike on Australia’s warship, the HMAS Hobart. Part 1 and Part 2 of that work is complete, and there will be a third installment at some point in the future.
One of the issues I have raised is a question of terminology. It should easy to write off the term “UFO” as some sort of lazy “catchall” for unknown, unidentifiable aircraft. Helicopters, especially seen at a distance, or only briefly plotted on primary radar, would have fallen into the the “UFO” category. However, the problem is rather more complex than that. Time and time again in official military documents we have seen the term “UFO” being alongside, or distinct from, “unidentified aircraft”, “unknown helicopters”, and the like. This is both inconsistent and unexpected in such a wide range of military records. Still, is it possible that these references to, and reports of, “UFOs” or “unidentified flying objects” in Vietnam were merely bumbling enemy helicopters and tricks of light in the jungle? Unfortunately, simple explanations fail to solve the issue to my satisfaction.
Though not found by either Barry Greenwood or myself, it is worth taking a look at a 17th of April, 1967 UFO report made by US Army Specialist (SP4) Robert M. Harkinson who was assigned to Headquarters, 524th Military Intelligence Detachment, Saigon. Harkinson’s typed report was submitted on a two page US Army “Counterintelligence Spot Report” form, with a “Subject” line reading “Sighting of Unidentified Flying Objects”. He states that at around 2:20am:
“…I observed five large, illuminated oval-shaped objects, traveling in close formation and at a very high rate of speed across the sky. At that time, I was on the roof of the Saigon Field Office of the 524th MI Detachment… …I first saw these objects near the horizon to my left and watched them cover the entire field of my vision in what I believe to be less than five seconds. During that period of time, the objects travelled from where I first saw them, near the horizon to my left, passed almost directly over me at what seemed to be a very great height, and then moved out of sight behind a cloud formation at the horizon to my right. The sky was partly cloudy but, at the time of the sighting, the area of the sky over which they travelled was very clear, with the exception of a few small patches of scattered clouds, which they seemed to be above. As the objects passed over these clouds, they were obscured from my vision until they emerged on the other side. I also observed that, as they passed between my line of sight and a star, they covered the star and blocked out its light until they had passed. This indicated to me that the objects were not transparent.”
Following on, the witness attempts to compare the objects to known aircraft, and conveys limitations in describing the objects in detail:
“It was apparent that they were not any form of conventional aircraft due to their size, shape, rate of speed and the fact that they made no noise audible to me. Prior to the sighting of these objects, I had been observing conventional aircraft, both propeller and jet-powered, and there is no question in my mind that they were a great deal larger than any craft I have ever seen in the sky. They were also traveling at a rate of speed which I would estimate to be at least five times greater than any jet-powered aircraft I have ever seen. They were too distant and traveling too fast for a detailed description to be possible. I was only able to see that they were definitely oval in shape and glowed a steady white…”
Finally, Harkinson states:
“I have never held any opinion concerning unidentified flying objects. Neither have I ever seen any, previously. However, I believe that these objects were spacecraft of some kind. I am convinced that they were not reflections, conventional aircraft, meteorites or planets.”
Whatever SP4 Harkinson witnessed, or believed he witnessed, it certainly had nothing to do with North Vietnamese helicopters. The report was submitted to the USAF’s Air Force Systems Command’s (AFSC) Foreign Technology Division (FTD) which controlled Project Blue Book, but, as far as we know, wasn’t investigated. In the covering letter to the FTD, the witness was described as “…a stable, mature member” of the Army’s military intelligence community in Saigon. Astronomer and Project Blue Book consultant J. Allen Hynek took interest in the case, writing to Maj. Hector Quintanilla, the head of the flawed Blue Book UFO investigation project, on the 20th of November, 1967, about acquiring more details from the US Army in Saigon. In the letter, Hynek stated, amongst other things, that:
“As reported, this case is completely unidentified and much additional information is called for. It is inconceivable that military intelligence would not have looked further into this case, and therefore I should like to request that any further information gathered… …be forwarded to Project Blue Book”
Any follow-up investigation is yet to come to light. Harkinson’s two-page “Sighting of Unidentified Flying Objects” Counterintelligence Spot Report form is imaged above top and below.
As I have frequently pointed out, the terms “UFO” and “Unidentified Flying Object” are used alongside terms like “unidentified aircraft”, “unknown aircraft”, “unidentified helicopter” and the like. This would imply that the unknown objects being commonly witnessed by military forces were not fitting into more mundane categories. Who would want to use the term “UFO” over, say, “unknown helicopter”? Numerous United States Marine Corps (USMC) “Command Chronology” publications exemplify this conundrum.
One such example comes from Command Chronology, Headquarters, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion, 1 June, 1968 to 30 June, 1968. In the “Sequential Listing of Significant Events” section of the document, there are pages and pages of raw, tabulated text which discuss the daily activities of the 3rd Marine Division’s 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion while they were patrolling the southern edge of the demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in 1968. The entries logged on the 18th of June, between 8:35pm and 9:09pm, state:
“Tower at AmTrac CP reports two UFOs at 2 o’clock, 8000m
Co ‘A’ at C–4 position reported unidentified aircraft due east of C–4 position.
Elms Co ‘A’ at Oceanview reported 6 UFOs vic of the mouth of the Ben Hai River
Co ‘A’ at C-4 position reported AA fire at UFO in vic of Gio Linh.
Tower at AmTrac CP reported helicopter flying north over the peninsula.”
The terms “unidentified aircraft”, “UFO” and “helicopter” are used in a very short period of time indeed. Startlingly also is the reference to reported anti-aircraft fire “at UFO”. I have imaged this page below:
The same USMC battalion, by September, 1968, was reporting UFO’s to the USAF’s regional Direct Air Support Center (DASC) at Dong Ha Airfield. Such is stated in the “Sequential Listing of Significant Events” in “Command Chronology, Headquarters, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion, 1 September, 1968 to 30 September, 1968”. The entries logged on the 17th of September, between 8:15pm and 9:00pm, state:
“Co ‘B’ platoon, at Oceanview, (YD 2917151), reported sighting 4 UFO’s at an azimuth of 6200 mils, approximate distance 8000 to 10000 meters. Notified Da Nang DASC.
“Co ‘B’ platoon, at Oceanview, (YD 2917151), reported sighting 10 UFO’s from azimuth 5900 mils to azimuth 6200 mils, approximate distance 8000 to 10000 meters. Notified Da Nang DASC.”
The page is imaged below:
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington DC have released thousands of pages of “Daily Staff Journal Or Duty Officer’s Log” records which were compiled by the ground forces of the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division. One such set of logs, penned by the 14th Infantry Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, contains numerous references to radar contacts and visual observations, including landings, which, one would think, should be referred to as “helicopters” or “aircraft”. But, instead, they are listed as “UFOs”. For instance, on the 13th of January, 1969, starting at 1:13am, the 14th Infantry Duty Officer writes:
“To NCS from Radar… …radar picked up UFO moving east.”
An hour later, it is stated:
“To NCS from Radar. Spotted UFO circling, two landings…”
These sorts of entries continue, and include numerous “sightings”, plus a “touch down”. Also listed is the firing of five rounds of 105mm Howitzer fire. The log goes on to state, at 4:01am, that:
“Spooky 23 will be in vicinity of LZ Laura for any possible engagement of UFO’s. Spooky arrived at 0407.”
“Spooky” was the name given to the USAF’s AC-47 gunship aircraft employed for low level ground attack and light air-to-air combat. In this case, apparently, the “UFOs” were gone by the time “Spooky 23” arrived. But, just before 5am, radar picked up the unknown intruders for another half an hour before they vanished. Finally, at 7:30am, it is written that:
“Brigade wants 1/14 to check out the area where artillery was employed… …where UFOs were fired upon this morning.”
The log entries for the rest of the day make no mention of anything being found “where UFOs were fired upon”, so evidently nothing was. The above detailed page is imaged below:
The above log entry is but just one example. With ample time and space, I could highlight similar events, with a detailed summary of each page, but there are simply too many. Suffice to say, some entries are more noteworthy than others. On the 14th of January, for example, at 4:30am, it is said that:
“…Radar reported visual sighting over LZ Chara Bde… …In the 1st ten minutes, there have been 4 landing… …also there is electrical interference coming from that area.”
Electrical interference? This is an effect often reported during localised, close range UFO incidents. Whatever the specifics, and there unfortunately isn’t enough of them, these 14th Infantry logs are loaded with unsolved, unidentified entries about “UFOs”. Helicopters are never mentioned, and, in fact, some of the “UFO” sightings specifically discuss the total lack of sound. None of the sightings end up being actually solved. Also not mentioned, ever, are hostile aircraft, contrails, flak or flares. It’s always “UFOs”. Maybe the wartime environment, plus unpredictable enemy activity, could be responsible for the inability to identify these objects. However, again, there seems to be no association between the “UFOs” and, say, helicopter activity or the sounds of engines. Needless to say, whatever the objects or phenomenon were, the USAF was not taking reports from the 14th Infantry, nor anyone else in the 4th Infantry Division.
Since the early 1950’s, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have promulgated a series of “Merchant Ship Intelligence” (MERINT) instructions which contained a standardized process for reporting unusual, unidentified or potentially hostile aircraft or vessels. While promulgated within “Joint Army Navy Air Force Publication 146” (JANAP 146) doctrine, MERINT instructions were by both non-military maritime professionals aboard US and Canadian flagged ships. Usually running at twelve pages or so, they were often published alongside the more well-known “Communications Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings” (CIRVIS) procedures, and, in fact, some shortened versions of JANAP 146 have both the MERINT and CIRVIS sections combined into one chapter.
Specifically, MERINT instructions requested the reporting of unidentified aircraft, or, formations of unidentified aircraft, missiles, hostile or unidentified submarines and surface vessels, and other unusual or unexpected air or waterborne activity. Also specified are “unidentified flying objects”. A submitted MERINT report would include a description of the sighting, including the object(s) shape, size, color, any discernible features, associated sound, direction of travel, length of sighting, etc. Historically, addressee’s included, to name a few, the Commander-in-Chief, North American Air Defense Command (CINCNORAD), the USN’s Chief of Naval Operations, (CNO), the USN’s Director, Naval Ocean Surveillance Information Center, (D-NOSIC), and the Canadian Navy’s Commander, Maritime Command.
The US Navy (USN) was serious about the promulgation of MERINT instructions through a document titled “Military Sea Transportation Service, Far East, Instruction 3360.1A”. The four page document, distributed in June, 1967, was sent from the Commander, Military Sea Transportation Service, Far East, San Francisco, to various USN Naval Communication Stations (NAVCOMMSTA) in the Asia-Pacific region. Starting on Page 1, the subject line of the document is “Reporting of Vital Intelligence Sightings from Seaborne Sources (SHORT TITLE – MERINT)” and highlights JANAP 146(E) in the reference list. In the “Purpose” section, it is stated:
“To emphasise the importance of prompt and accurate reporting of intelligence sightings by USNS ships under the operation control of the Commander, Military Sea Transportation Service, Far East (COMSTSFE)”
Following on, the “Background” section discusses the significance of “intelligence sightings” reporting, and the importance of complying with the established procedures in the interests of national security. The next section, titled “Action”, states:
“All USNS ships under the operational control of COMSTSFE are directed to report the following intelligence sightings by message:
a. Hostile or unidentified single aircraft or formation of aircraft which appear to be directed against the United States forces.
c. Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO)
d. Hostile or unidentified submarines.
e. Hostile or unidentified group or groups of military surface vessels.
f. Individual surface vessels, submarines, or aircraft of unconventional design, or engaged in suspicious activity or observed in an unusual location.
g. Unidentified objects of either scientific or warlike appearance seen submerged or floating on the surface of the water.”
Note here that a distinction is drawn between “Unidentified Flying Objects”, or, “UFOs” and “missiles”, “unidentified single aircraft or formation of aircraft”, etc. Thus, UFOs do not seem to mean the same thing. I have imaged the page below:
While it is probably unnecessary to reproduce the rest of “Military Sea Transportation Service, Far East, Instruction 3360.1A” here, I should mention that the second page lays out what exactly should be contained in a report, including items such “Date and time of sighting”, “Altitude of object expressed as Low, Medium or High”, “Direction of travel of object”, “Speed of object” and “Conditions of sea and weather”. Clearly, MERINT instructions, as well as the more familiar CIRVIS procedures mentioned before, are primarily for the reporting of unidentifiable aircraft or vessels which could be hostile. However, unusual UFO events have indeed been reported using MERINT and CIRVIS procedures. The USAF’s Project Blue Book case files contain a significant number of them, as do Canada’s UFO files, formally held by the Department of National Defence (DND). And these are only the cases we know about…
It is easily argued that significant MERINT and CIRVIS reported UFO cases never even made it to Blue Book or the DND, and, in fact, stayed well within operational areas of air defence, air intelligence and so forth. The infamous “Bolender Memo”, which was actually an USAF “Air Staff Study”, and not a memorandum as such, stated that “…reports of unidentified flying objects which could affect national security are made in accordance with JANAP 146… …are not part of the Blue Book system.”. Signed on the 20th October, 1969 by Brigadier General Carrol H. Bolender, Deputy Director of Development, USAF, the document also went on to state that “…reports of UFOs which could affect national security would continue to be handled through the standard Air Force procedures designed for this purpose.”. Thus, it is established that JANAP 146, which contained CIRVIS and MERINT reporting procedures, was one of a number of ongoing examples of doctrine that allowed for, even demanded, the reporting of “UFOs” which “could affect national security”. CIRVIS and MERINT reportable events have continued to be submitted with urgency. Canada’s Department of Transport (DOT) has released some of these reports, but the USAF and NORAD have not, and Freedom of Information requests have been knocked back time and time again.
Actual MERINT instruction booklets, like the example referred to in “Military Sea Transportation Service, Far East, Instruction 3360.1A”, have been released, and are quite clear in textual and graphical presentation. While there have been different versions released since the 1950’s, a good example of a Vietnam War-era MERINT booklet is “OPNAV 94-P-3”. Signed off by Admiral James S. Russell, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, USN, and promulgated in July, 1959, this version of MERINT was current until January, 1967. Page 6 contains the typical “What To Report” section. It is stated, “Report all airborne and waterborne objects which appear hostile, suspicious, or unidentified…”. Examples such as “guided missiles” and “aircraft or contrails…” are listed as distinct from “unidentified flying objects”. Also displayed are shaded illustrations next to each example. Next to “unidentified flying objects” is a somewhat classic flying saucer craft, as well as a Buck Rogers type rocket. So, again, there is certainly a requirement here that UFO’s were to be reported. Below is the page in question.
In March, 2015, researcher Barry Greenwood discovered that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had made a previously unknown collection of Vietnam War-era records partially available. Titled “Combat Air Activities Files” (CACTA), these records were originally controlled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s (JCS) J-3 (Operations) Directorate, and contain vast amounts of tabulated data regarding combat missions flown over southeast Asia. The CACTA database is keyword searchable. Using the search term “UFO”, dozens of records populate the results display. Furthermore, the term “UFO” is often accompanied by other terms. The results are as varied as “UFO CHASE”, “SUS UFO” and “UFO SEARCH”. The actual missions that contain these terms include “Air Interdiction”, “Visual Reconnaissance”, “Flare Drop”, “Strike” and “Airborne Alert”. Amazingly, although the raw data in these records are available, the actual hardcopy records at NARA are still classified SECRET. So, even after five decades, the controlling authorities have not seen fit to make them fully available. Barry Greenwood, probably the world’s leading expert on government UFO records availability, says:
“There would seem to be no good reason to withhold the reports if a FOI request were filed. These events were fifty years ago. Invoking “National Security” for a war that ended in the distant past would not be convincing.”
Still, what little we see in these summarised CACTA records is enough to, once again, conclude that the US military, was using the term “UFO” regularly, and, it was being used as a standard descriptor. This should not have been the case. Project Blue Book was being finalized, and the Colorado UFO Study had actually ended when some of these aerial missions over Asia were evidently still listing some events as “UFOs”. Below is one of the digital results pages from the online CACTA database.
To conclude, there is undoubtedly far more Vietnam War-era documentation yet to be declassified and released. We have only seen a fraction of the administrative records painstakingly produced by all four branches of the US military. We have, likewise, only scratched the surface when it comes to operational records – records we know exist by category or title, but have yet to be made available to researchers. There are “Strike Reports”, “Air Interdiction Results”, “After Action Mission Reports”, “Base Alerts”, “Reconnaissance Reports”, “Bombardment Reports”, “Daily Staff Journals”, “Air Traffic Control Logs”, and myriad other groupings of day-to-day paperwork. If the comparatively tiny number of released records, so far, are littered with references to “UFOs”, then the rest of them will hardly be any different. Experience tells us that these current discoveries will not be a freak statistical fluke.
More importantly, considering that “UFOs” were being reported distinctly from other aerial activity, Project Blue Book investigation, with only a handful of exceptions, was absolutely nowhere to be seen. Researchers are well area that the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), Aerospace Defence Command (ADCOM), and the old Strategic Air Command (SAC) were not submitting UFO cases to Project Blue Book when they should have been, but now we can safely say that American forces in Vietnam were no better. Congress, the press and the public were being regularly told that Blue Book was the final word in UFO case collection and study.
Even the most extremist, most boneheaded debunker cannot fail to see dishonesty and inconsistency here. Astoundingly, when America’s leaders specifically ask about the UFO matter, they are told untruths. In a reply letter to Senator Patty Murray, dated August 25, 1993, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Shubert, USAF, stated:
“As information, the Air force began investigating UFOs in 1948 under a program called Project Sign. Later, the program’s name was changed to Project Grudge and, in 1953, it became known as Project Blue Book. On December 17, 1969, the Secretary of the Air Force announced the termination of Project Blue Book… …As a result of these investigations, studies, and experience, the conclusions of Project Blue book were: 1) no UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security…”
Compare this with the contents of the Bolender Memo, which stated “…reports of unidentified flying objects which could affect national security are made in accordance with JANAP 146…”. As I have highlighted, JANAP 146 laid out CIRVIS and MERINT procedures, which, needless to say, specifically ask for the reporting of “unidentified flying objects”. Moreover, actual copies of CIRVIS and MERINT reports held in America are still classified, despite the fact that some are thirty or forty years old. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), while powerful, has not yielded anything. The Canadian government has done better, releasing interesting CIRVIS reports as they see fit. Apparently though, Canadian MERINT reports are not available. Below is a copy of the reply letter to Senator Patty Murray:
As for Vietnam, whatever the situation – UFO’s, helicopters, unknown aircraft, whatever phrase or term used, there is an awful lot of questions that need to be answered, and an gigantic quantity of military records which need to be seen. We are making progress on the latter.