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Jesse Marcel

Jesse Marcel: Roswell's 'First Witness'

What did Jess Marcel witness on that fateful day in Roswell in 1947?

The new, exclusive documentary Roswell: The First Witness might just overturn everything we thought we knew about the most famous UFO incident in history. It focuses on Major Jesse Marcel, the first official who turned up at the scene, and follows members of his family, along with former CIA operative Ben Smith, as they investigate just what Marcel may have discovered, and what he may have been ordered to cover up.

Before we get into Marcel’s involvement, it’s useful to have a quick refresher on the Roswell incident. Sometime in late June or early July 1947, a rancher named WW ‘Mac’ Brazel spotted strange wreckage strewn across the property he was tending close to Roswell, New Mexico. While the wreckage itself didn’t seem particularly other-worldly at first glance (it consisted largely of fabric, foil and sticks), the possibility of alien contact was high on the minds of Americans in June 1947. After all, that very month saw the news break of pilot Kenneth Arnold’s alleged sighting of bizarre flying objects near Mount Rainier in Washington – this was the incident which led to the popularisation of the term ‘flying saucer’.

Aware that there was much media speculation about UFOs, Brazel decided it was a good idea to report the wreckage to a local sheriff, who in turn reported it to the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF). It was at this point that Major Jesse Marcel entered the picture. Marcel was a veteran of World War Two who had later played a significant role in the post-war atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. In other words, he was no ordinary soldier, but actually a key figure in the US military establishment.

Speaking a few days later to journalists about his initial investigation at the site, Marcel recounted how ‘the ranch is out in the middle of nowhere, and we spent a couple of hours… looking for any more parts’. Soon afterwards, the RAAF released a surprisingly upfront press release which openly declared a possible flying saucer had been found on the ranch. Almost immediately, however, the story was changed, with the military officially declaring the debris to actually be that of a crashed weather balloon. A newspaper report showed Jesse Marcel posing with the wreckage, alongside the revelation that the ‘mysterious object found on a lonely New Mexico ranch was a harmless high-altitude weather balloon – not a grounded flying disk.’

For decades, UFO-ologists loudly doubted the story, and Roswell eventually became a by-word for alien visitations and government cover-ups. In the 1990s, the US military conceded that the weather balloon story was a cover-up – not to conceal the presence of aliens, but to secure the secrecy of Project Mogul, an operation to spy on possible Soviet atomic tests using microphones on high-altitude balloons.

Despite this official explanation, questions about Roswell have never gone away. This is partly because of that original, tantalising press release mentioning a flying disk. As former CIA agent Ben Smith recently said in an interview with Live Science, ‘No other government in the world has said “We have a spacecraft,” and then the next day there's another press release that says, “Never mind, it was just a weather balloon”.’

It now seems Major Jesse Marcel could be the key to unlocking the enigma of just what happened in 1947. His grandson, Jesse Marcel III, has gone on the record saying that his grandfather was a ‘fall guy’ who was told by superiors to deny the truth of what he saw at the crash site. Namely, material that was ‘not made by human hands’.

According to family accounts, Marcel also experimented with some of the Roswell wreckage, at one point trying to drill a hole into a piece, and melt it with a cigarette lighter, to no avail. As grandson John Marcel recalls, the veteran soldier even speculated that apparent glass fibres and optic cables in the wreckage may have been from some ship-board computer.

A crucial piece of evidence is Marcel’s diary, whose authenticity will be tested in the new series Roswell: The First Witness. Marcel, who passed away in 1986, seems to have chronicled his observations in this journal, which – according to grandson Jesse Marcel III – contains cryptic writing that ‘doesn’t really fit with who our grandfather was’. Ben Smith also believes the diary could contain significant findings, pointing out unusual breaks in the writing that could denote ‘a secret code’, and that it’s very possible ‘Jesse did his duty to toe the publicity line’.

Now, at last, the diary is being subjected to incisive analysis by a top codebreaker, while a body language expert will also be looking at video interviews with Marcel. Could the first official witness at Roswell finally be about to divulge the secrets he kept hidden throughout his life?