This article was originally published in Fate Magazine www.fatemag.com, and is reprinted here with their consent.
The war was still a fresh and tragic memory when I came to this country in 1975. I met countless people who had either served themselves or had close relatives or friends who did. As I became interested in ufology from 1977 on, some of the first stories I heard were war-related. My friend John Miranda, who was the first to show me evidence for UFOs, heard first-hand an account from a co-worker in 1972: Andy (not his real name) had just served as an USAF Technical Sergeant in “what he described was the intelligence center in Thailand that coordinated the military aircraft flights over all of Vietnam. As he put it, ‘if there was a plane flying anywhere in S.E. Asia, this control center knew about it’.” It was probably the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, identified in FOIA documents discussed below.
Andy reported that “one day [probably in 1969] on multiple radars, they tracked an object traveling at 7,000 mph that repeatedly made right angle turns. They checked with the top commanders from Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. All confirmed they had no aircraft flying in that area at the time. Of course, the folks in the intelligence center were warned never to speak of this event.” Miranda added that Andy was a sharp individual without tendency to exaggerate. “He knew exactly what he was telling me. And he had no reason to embellish the story.” Thus ended my first Vietnam UFO story. More were to follow.
More eyewitness accounts
The next sighting came from one of my mentors in the field, the late New York City Police detective Pete Mazzola. Pete, who passed away in 1987, had then formed a national organization called the SBI, for Scientific Bureau of Investigation. Pete served in Vietnam from 1965 until the end of that decade. Although I heard the story many times, I’d rather quote it from a 1982 article in a local NY paper, The News World, with the subtitle of, “Staten Is. researcher inspired by encounter in Vietnam War.” The author was journalist Hal McKenzie, who later became a UFO activist and author.
“There were several times, while on patrol in the jungle, that I had time to look up at the stars,” began Mazzola. “I saw more than a few unusual ‘shooting stars’ that maneuvered in a way no meteor could.” One incident left an indelible memory in the young soldier. Mazzola couldn’t remember the exact date, only that it was around 1966 or ’67. Mazzola’s patrol was pinned down in tall elephant grass when they saw something strange appear over the paddy fields and palm trees ahead. “I couldn’t believe what I saw,” continued Mazzola, “the other guys saw it too but afterwards were too shocked to talk much about it except to say, ‘What the hell was that?’” Mazzola’s job as Forward Observer for his platoon was to call in the coordinates of enemy positions to US Navy ships.
Mazzola heard the shells first from the south (the American warships positions) and “then the objects began to receive artillery rounds in the other direction, from the north [the Vietcong]. The shells never made the target. They all exploded short, we could see the black smoke puffs in the air.” The detective almost implied the UFO was doing something to explode the shells prematurely. The object continued to hover “silently, gracefully,” said Mazzola, and in less than five minutes “shot straight up in the air” and was gone.
I then discovered another interesting case, published in the July 1973 issue of NICAP’s UFO Investigator newsletter, and investigated by famous ufologist Raymond Fowler. It occurred at the South Vietnamese Nha Trang Base in June 1966, which housed over 40,000 troops, including 2000 American GIs. The witness, an enlisted soldier with Specialist 5 rank, recalled that soldiers had gathered to watch an outdoors movie projected with a diesel generator. They had watched the film for a while when the sky suddenly lit up with what they first thought were flares.
“It came from the north and was moving from real slow to real fast,” the soldier told Fowler. Pilots on the base estimated the lights were about 25,000 feet high. “Then the panic broke loose,” continued the witness. “It [UFO] dropped right towards us and stopped dead still about 300 to 500 feet up. It made this little valley and the mountains around look like it was the middle of the day; it lit up everything. Then it went up and I mean up. It went straight up and completely out of sight in about 2-3 seconds. Everybody is still talking about it.”
The witness added that at the same time all the generators on the base stopped, everything went black, even the motors of planes ready to take off stopped. “There wasn’t a car, truck, plane or anything that ran for about four minutes,” said the soldier. So if his recollection is accurate, this was a massive CE-II with widespread EME (electromagnetic effect). “A whole plane load of big shots from Washington got here to investigate,” added the soldier.
Unfortunately, no documentary evidence or additional witnesses has emerged since 1973 to back-up the EME evidence. Did a UFO really trigger a big blackout at the Nha Trang Base with massive EME on all kinds of engines? It’s possible, but until we find a paper trail or additional witnesses, we can’t say for sure. However, there is an official paper trail for other UFO incidents during the Vietnam War. The first case on record comes from the final list of “Unknowns” in Project Blue Book, when Vietnam (and neighboring Cambodia and Laos) were still called French Indochina. “Case No. 1232” occurred on May 28, 1952, and was seen by “multiple witnesses” in Saigon. This was during the first Indochina War against the French colonial power, won by the Vietnamese in 1954.
UFOs or “Enemy Helicopters”?
Some of the documents and statements in the paper trail come from high-ranking sources. On October 16, 1973, the USAF Chief of Staff, General George S. Brown, gave a press conference in Illinois. The USAF had been out of the UFO business since 1970, but the saucers were back in the news. This was the week when the 1973 UFO flap peaked: the Governor of Ohio had reported a UFO sighting the day before, the Pascagoula abduction occurred on the 11th, and the Coyne helicopter-UFO encounter would take place two days later. So it wasn’t surprising that the press would ask General Brown’s opinion about UFOs. I have a copy of the official Pentagon transcript of Gen. Brown’s remarks and I even saw once the unedited footage of this conference at the CBS News Archives in New York. Instead of commenting on the recent wave of sightings sweeping across the nation, Gen. Brown’s attention was drawn back to Vietnam. These are his exact words:
“I don’t know whether this story has ever been told or not. They weren’t called UFOs. They were called enemy helicopters. And they were only seen at night and they were only seen in certain places. They were seen up around the DMZ [demilitarized zone] in the early summer of ’68. And this resulted in quite a little battle. And in the course of this, an Australian destroyer took a hit and we never found any enemy, we only found ourselves when this had all been sorted out. And this caused some shooting there, and there was no enemy at all involved but we always reacted. Always after dark. The same thing happened up at Pleiku in the Highlands in ‘69. and we found there that they had moved the radar in and the Army started to work and we finally got that radar out of there and then they quit worrying about their problem.”
The issue of UFOs fired at as “enemy helicopters” by both sides, in fact, was widely reported during certain periods of the war. One occurred in the middle of June 1968, between the 18th and the 23rd. We have in our archives a stack of newswire reports from the AP and Agence France-Press (AFP), published in South American newspapers (mostly Brazil and Chile). They call it the fog of war not for nothing. The affair was truly confusing, so let’s try to decipher it.
The first article, published on June 18, 1968, has the appropriate title of “Mysterious Aerial Craft Cause Problems in Vietnam.” The AP dispatch from Saigon quotes a military spokesman even blaming the recent sinking of a Swift boat to “an unidentified object and not by North Vietnamese coastal batteries,” as previously announced. A new explanation was given to the press when sightings by American forces continued on the DMZ: Soviet-made “Styx” missiles that could be fired from small boats. “Radar Sees ‘Things’ In Vietnam Skies” was the headline on June 20th. The article added that Phantom F-4 jets were scrambled, but confusion prevailed. An article two days later stated the radar Bogies could have been misinterpreted and scramble operations were suspended.
Newsweek reported about this whole affair on its July 1st issue. Correspondent Robert Stokes was present at the Dong Ha base when “thirteen sets of yellowish-white lights” were reported over the Ben Hai River. Jets were scrambled and one pilot reported downing an object. Reconnaissance aircraft were immediately sent, but only a burned spot was seen. The loss of the Swift boat was mentioned again, but this time the South Vietnamese government had a new theory: “friendly fire” from one of our own fighters.
FOIA DOD military intelligence reports
We’ve located only two detailed military intelligence reports among the thousands of UFO documents released by various agencies under the FOIA. The first DOD Intelligence Information Report, dated 26 Dec. 1968, deals with “Unidentified Flying Objects” in the “Laos/Thailand” border area. It was written by USAF Major Dale Fulton, the Air Attaché in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Besides the Vietnam War proper, there were other, secret engagements in the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia, and even Thailand had a communist insurgency for a while, although they were able to quash it.
Maj. Fulton’s report begins with a series of radar sightings on the early hours of Nov. 28, 1968 detected by the Thai military: The “Nakhon Phanom Command Post was informed they ‘definitely were not ghosts’.” A Knife-27 chopper was immediately dispatched to the area, but nothing was seen. A second chopper, Knife-28 was sent later without better results, but as it returned to its base the ground radar detected new Bogies. “Historically, November and early December have produced large number or radar returns, particularly on CGA scopes, from natural or cultural phenomena in Thailand,” wrote Maj. Fulton, adding that many small balloons were released “from fairs and religious celebrations.” More important to the military, the report concluded that “to date, there is no confirmed evidence that hostile aircraft or helicopters have penetrated Thai air space in support of insurgent or communist activities.” The enemy doesn’t have that kind of capabilities, particularly since “to infiltrate personnel or supplies” can be accomplished by “other methods [that] are cheaper, safer and less obvious.”
The second report, dated 6 Sept. 1969, is titled “Unknown Entity – Unidentified Object Thought to be Helicopter Observed Near Nakhon Phanom RTAFB.” It was prepared by Robert Kaehler of OSI (Office of Special Investigations), stationed at the same base. The report deals with a lot of familiar territory: Radar Bogies and aircraft scrambles; talk of hostile choppers and insurgents in the Laotian border area; balloons released with Thai religious festivals; etc. In fact, Kaehler writes that “radar and visual sightings of UFOs, such as that being checked out by the OV-10 pilot in this instance, are not a new phenomenon, particularly at night.” The officer concluded once again that, “evidence indicates that much of the Thai-Laotian border can be crossed at ground level without a great deal of difficulty, affording a far cheaper, safer and less obvious means of infiltration or exfiltration.”
There must be many other similar reports lost away in Washington’s paper bureaucracy. While these reports offer exciting contents, the UFO sightings themselves were never properly explained. For obvious reasons, the US military’s main concern was the possibility that these objects could be hostile enemy craft. Further inquiries were suspended once this was discarded. Yet cases continued to be reported until the end of the American involvement in Indochina. On Sept. 29, 1972, as the war dragged on, the State Journal in Lansing, Michigan, published an AFP newswire report titled, “What Was UFO Over Hanoi?” The AFP correspondent in Hanoi, Jean Thoraval, wrote that “a mysterious object appeared in the clear blue sky over Hanoi Friday, attracting missile fire from the ground but apparently remaining motionless.”
Thoraval himself saw the object from the ground with binoculars. He described it as “spherical in shape and a luminous orange in color, and was clearly at a very high altitude.” North Vietnamese air defenses fired three surface-to-air missiles, which were unable to reach the target. The object remained in the same high spot for over one hour and 20 minutes, although towards the end “it appeared less bright than before.”
This case over Hanoi might have led to a spurious story, first published in a Russian newspaper in New York in the early 90s and then spread to many other publications in Russia. The story told of a similar UFO visit to Hanoi, except this time it was a silvery saucer. The Anti-Aircraft Defense Corps, equipped with a Soviet-manned “Cube” missile complex, fired at the UFO with no effect. The disc then turned around and shot “a fine, needle-like, light blue ray on one of the battalions which had fired the missiles,” killing some 200 people, including Soviet advisors. But this story turned out to be hoax, exposed by Anatoly Dokuchayev, a Russian military journalist, in the July 1993 issue of the Moscow journal Aura-Z.
Similarly, some American UFO magazines and newsletters published in the same period a number of fantastic tales with ETs during the Vietnam War. Since none of them were ever confirmed, we’ll skip the gory details, but we’ve reviewed sufficient credible data to show that something strange was indeed reported during that war. We urge readers who may have witnessed or heard first-hand stories about UFOs in Vietnam, to send them to Open Mind’s sightings submission page: http://www.openminds.tv/sightings/.
Download FOIA Defense Intelligence Agency reports: