Don Schmitt and I met in the late 90s when I was producing Dark Skies for NBC and a mutual friend Tracey Torme introduced us. In the 2010s, I optioned Don’s book Witness to Roswell (with Thomas Carey) and Stanton Friedman’s book Top Secret/Majic as the underlying material for a film called The Crash. Recently, Don Schmitt and I sat down (virtually, of course) to discuss his life’s work. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BRYCE ZABEL: At this point, Don, particularly with the recent passing of Stan Friedman, you’re probably the researcher who has been knocking on the door of Roswell truth longer than anyone else. How’d you get involved?
DON SCHMITT: I was the Director of Special Investigations with the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies at the time. I can’t emphasize enough that I was a total skeptic on the notion that any government in the world had in its possession a crashed UFO. Just couldn’t accept that a story of that magnitude could be kept a secret after all these years.
I remember confronting Stan Friedman at the time with my questions. Did he believe they had taken the Roswell investigation as far as they could? Did they interview all the living witnesses at that time? His response surprised me. “No Don. I’m sure there are still hundreds of eyewitnesses we haven’t reached.” That felt like a challenge and I accepted.
Early into the next year, making that very first research trip to New Mexico, the scene of the event, I was confident we would wrap this up in a single weekend. Prove that it was something prosaic and end the effort in short order. Well, I couldn’t get back to New Mexico fast enough after that first trip. I realized if I remained a hard-line skeptic who wasn’t willing to allow for the slim chance that I were wrong, I could be walking away from the biggest story of the millennium.
BZ: I imagine your answer now is that it turns out that it was the biggest story.
DS: I think so, yes. My take back then was to allow the eyewitness testimony to steer the course of an independent investigation — let the information dictate terms. Not to embrace any preconceived theory.
Is Roswell now established fact or still just a theory?
Fact. Something crashed outside of Roswell, New Mexico in July, 1947. It was not a weather balloon or a crash dummy or any of the other prosaic explanations offered. It was a craft that no one had seen before. They said it themselves before they decided to go with a lie.
Let’s get into that. For people who really only know that Roswell has something to do with a crashed alien saucer but not much more, can you lay out the basic case for us about what happened and how we know it happened?
Start with Tuesday, July 8, 1947 at 12 pm Mountain Standard Time, that’s your moment. Because it was then that the Roswell Army Air Field, the headquarters of the first and only atomic bomb wing in the world at that time, put out an official press release announcing to the world that they had captured a “flying disk.” In the aftermath, even the Pentagon stated to the press that the wreckage from Roswell was transported to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio for testing and analysis.
Understand that New Mexico was a hotbed of UFO activity in the summer of 1947, even though the Kenneth Arnold sightings up in Washington State got all the press.
In July, only a few weeks after Arnold, there were severe lightning storms in the high desert region of Lincoln County and local ranchers claimed to hear an explosion between the thunder-claps. The very next morning a ranch foreman by the name of Mack Brazel, he discovered a huge debris field of strange wreckage which in turn he reported to the sheriff in Roswell who next reported it all the way to the base commander at the Roswell Army Air Field. It went up the chain of command, as it were.
What we know now is that no one was able to identify the wreckage which possessed the most amazing qualities including memory material. This is a period that our witnesses have told us so much about.
In any case, two days pass and RAAF puts out that press release that they’ve captured a flying saucer. Five hours later, it’s all explained away as an off-the-shelf balloon device and for the next 30 years that remains the official explanation. That is until the head of intelligence at Roswell in 1947, Major Jesse Marcel, diagnosed with a terminal condition, breaks his oath of silence and states on the record that the crash-material was “nothing made on this Earth.” Marcel told this to Stanton Friedman in 1978 down near his home in Louisiana.
Since then the military or the government has come out with three alternative explanations to that event. All of the eyewitnesses to the event have stated, including admissible deathbed confessions, that the first announcement was the correct one. There remain zero witnesses to the subsequent attempts to cloud the issue.
After that initial early work with Stanton Friedman, I’ve had two other professional partners over the past 32 years — first Kevin Randle and my present partner Tom Carey. Between us we’ve interviewed over 600 witnesses either directly or indirectly involved. Six hundred different people!
These men and women have corroborated Marcel’s account completely. Others have sworn that there were bodies recovered and that one of them was alive. I can assure you, weather balloons do not have pilots.
Wait. Let’s clear this up. What are the different government explanations you’re referring to?
First, in 1947, they said it was an actual flying saucer. Then the next day they said it was a basic weather balloon. Then, in 1994, the government said it was debris from Project Mogul, a military surveillance program employing high-altitude balloons. Three years later, they went even further stating that reports of recovered alien bodies were memories of the recovery of anthropomorphic dummies in military programs from the 1950s.
Here’s how I’ve always looked at it, Bryce. The U.S. military started this by putting out that first release. Were they lying then or are they lying now? It’s been my mission to establish if that first press release was the correct explanation. I believe now after thirty some years of research that we can say, yes, definitively, they told the truth in 1947. They came to regret it, but that is not our problem.
When the New York Times talked about crash wreckage in their last article, do you think they specifically have Roswell in mind? Is Roswell about to break out as a news story?
It’s possible. Although there is one structural impediment, besides the obvious one of admitting that you’ve lied all these years, and it is this. There remains a tremendous amount of official culpability when one considers all of the violations of civil rights of the civilian witnesses back in 1947. The abduction of Mack Brazel, the rancher who first reported the crash would make a tremendous lawsuit. Throw in Frankie Rowe, Vernon Brazel, Timothy Proctor, and a slew of other children alone who were threatened with death! In America no less.
The government has a disincentive then to actually tell the truth. As for the New York Times, the paper has vast resources. I’ve spoken to reporters there. They understand that this case is not going away. So who knows?
I like to call Roswell the “Original Sin” of Ufology. What’s your take on its importance to the even larger issue of where we stand on understanding the scope and magnitude of the Phenomenon?
Roswell was the granddaddy of all UFO cases. But, in many ways it also gave birth to the contemporary study of the phenomenon. Project Sign was a result of Roswell and the Twining letter of September, 1947, assessing the state of the flying disk situation was just two months after the recovery in New Mexico.
The very arbiters of the UFO cover-up were all crucial players of the Roswell case and it can be documented that the ridicule factor also began as a result of the incident. Days after the infamous weather balloon non-press conference in the office of General Roger Ramey, he was interviewed by an El Paso radio host who argued that the Roswell weather balloon explanation didn’t explain all of the disk reports throughout America at that time. Ramey agreed but then added it was true that such reports had come in from every state “except Kansas which was a dry state.”
It’s just insulting. Saying that all these reports up until then were from people who drink too much. It worked, though, and the UFO ridicule factor was born.
As many of our readers know, I’ve been working on developing a film about the investigation competition between you and Stanton Friedman to really break the Roswell story for several years with my producing partner Don Most. Originally, we expected to call the feature film Majic Men, but we changed it to Unidentified until History did their TV series, and now we’ve finally settled on The Crash.
Anyway, Stan, of course, was the man who broke the story originally by finding and putting Jesse Marcel on the record. And you are the person who’s spent the most consistent time of anyone investigating. So, let’s ask the hard question here. Ready?
Who should play Don Schmitt in the movie?
Sorry. The movie takes place in the 1990s. Brad Pitt is too old to play the period Don Schmitt.
I honestly have no idea. I’d rather conduct a weeks-long Roswell archeological dig with my bare hands than try to answer that.
Well, the truth is, it’s way too early to talk about casting, but every time I’ve been on Coast-to-Coast AM, George Noory always asks me who is going to play Stan Friedman and who is going to play you. So Don (Most) and I put together these slides for our pitch deck. Ready to see them?
Not really. I don’t think so.
Bryce: Here they are anyway. [Bryce shows Don these two slides on his laptop. Don visibly winces.] Remember these are just ideas about the kind of actors we’d be interested in.
Don: Okay, having looked at these now, I can honestly tell you that I would be honored to have any of those gentleman even think about portraying me in a film. And, since Stan is not here to speak for himself any longer, I think he would favor Tom Hanks. Also, I’m just noticing this. Everyone has a beard.
You and Stan both had beards.
That’s true. I think we both always did. At least as soon as we could grow them.
Moving on. More than any other person on Earth, you have devoted your adult life to the pursuit of Roswell truth. Looking back over your career and your research, tell us what making that search did in terms of impacting your own personal life.
Well, it broke up two engagements because I wasn’t exactly in town at the more crucial moments within a relationship. And I missed out on attending the Golden Globes when Showtime made a film based on a book I’d written with Kevin Randle because I was interviewing witnesses.
Tell us about your partnership with Kevin Randle.
Kevin was a retired Lt. Colonel in the Air Force when we first connected. Like me, he was a total skeptic on Roswell and the conversion for both of us was practically instantaneous. Back at that time, there was no internet or CD-roms of phone data bases to track down potential witnesses.
We realized that with Kevin’s military connections, the feds might anticipate his actions. The decision was that I would do all the witness tracking which at that time involved credit records, motor vehicle licenses, air certification of current pilots, VA records, and yes, I actually used government computers, all in an effort to find Roswell witnesses. Once a week I would call Kevin listing off new names, phone numbers or addresses. Those conversations went like this: “How in the world?” followed by “Don’t ask.”
The energy level between interviewing new witnesses and dealing with daily inquiries from the press was non-stop during that time.
Okay, then, moving on to Tom Carey. How did that partnership come about?
While Kevin and I were working together, Tom Carey had already come on board, bringing his anthropologist background to the effort. He’d assisted us tremendously in our search for the archaeologists allegedly involved with the case.
Tom and I are still at it. We’ve published a total of five books together. We’ve always been spurred on by that looming undertaker which had already robbed us of so many of those crucial to the story. But, to this day, we both remain forever optimistic about what still lies over the next hill and if there’s one thing that Roswell has demonstrated, it never ceases to amaze and surprise us.
Let’s go there. What’s your take on the issue of bodies being found?
The ranch foreman who found the wreckage, Mack Brazel, said to radio KGFL reporter Frank Joyce, “They weren’t green.” He was talking about bodies.
Now if Brazel had merely observed and handled strange materials with unusually sophisticated qualities, there remains little doubt that as a lay-person, the military should have been easily able to convince him that it was from an experiment of theirs. It would have been that simple.
The bodies were the rub. Why else, against all civil laws, did the military take Brazel into custody for five full days, not provide him with due process, break him down with little food or sleep and finally threaten him with incarceration in a mental hospital for the rest of his life? Over funny metal that appeared to be more advanced? But non-human bodies changed their entire approach to where they resorted to breaking the law.
The families of the sheriff, members of the fire station, and even children who witnessed these former crewmen on the ship; they became the central targets of the government’s damage-control and these were the very witnesses who were subjected to the most heinous threats.
Fair enough. Many skeptics over the years seem to focus on why an ET craft might crash in the first place. Take a stab at explaining that. Why could a sophisticated ET craft be so clunky as the plow into the ground in the desert?
That’s one of the number one questions asked by people of all stripes and age brackets. We are always very clear to emphasize, based on dozens of first hand descriptions of the wreckage, that it was “nearly” indestructible. Let’s compare our metallurgical level of technology from 1947 up until today. Clearly, we have much more advanced alloys today which perform far superior tasks than the material in the past. Consider that anything that is manufactured is assembled and has to be malleable to a certain degree. Everything has a stress factor — a fracture point where it will fail.
The material recovered at Roswell may have been well-advanced beyond our technology then and even today. Whatever caused it to break up reached that critical mass and it exploded, raining debris onto that open arroyo. When Roswell is finally officially confirmed, maybe we’ll get the answer to that one.
Describe your attempts to find actual physical proof of the crash. The digs, etc.
Through the years we have had multiple, independent, first hand witnesses take us to the exact location of the debris field. The wheels were already turning within months of our first visit to New Mexico and the possibility that physical remains may still be at that very location.
In September of 1989, CUFOS (Center for UFO Studies) sponsored our first effort led by two archaeologists from Argon Labs in Illinois. Using a theodolite, that’s a survey meter, we mapped the area and laid out a systematic grid. We flagged areas of potential entrapment — all in preparation for a full-scale dig which we continued to work towards.
In 1995, we approached the head of the contract archaeology department at the University of New Mexico to get a budget breakdown. Seven years later, with funding from the SyFy Channel, we had our first full-scale operation with additional projects in 2006, 2015, and 2017. We haven’t found what we’ve been looking for but the military’s salvage operation was very thorough and the wreckage was spread out over a very wide area.
Do you think that the pot of gold still exists? Is there an old Army trunk out there in a garage somewhere with a piece of the wreckage?
Over the past thirty years we have had families contact us about hidden artifacts from the crash including photographs, diaries, letters, and slides. In each case we came up short. We have had metal fragments radio-isotope tested at considerable expense, also to come up short.
Still, if we accept the very premise of Roswell, we know that such physical proof exists. It may no longer be in the hands of family members or secluded away in army foot lockers but considering it originally covered an area almost a mile in length, something is probably still buried out there. More importantly, the government is sitting on a wealth of positive proof.
What remains to be done to complete the Roswell story?
Physical evidence would be the Holy Grail, of course. I believe that over time, however, that evidence has migrated from the government’s possession to the private sector. We have had firsthand witnesses at The Bureau of Standards, Hughes Aircraft, The Rand Corporation, General Electric, Boeing, and Battelle Institute who all described to us efforts to test and reverse engineer the crash wreckage from Roswell. To no avail, we’ve been told. Since those companies show no signs of sharing, we plan to return to the debris field for more archaeological work.
We also have accumulated enough information which would suggest that presently the recovered bodies are preserved at Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah, where the military biological medical facility is located. There will be intensified work on that front.
Still, the point that has to be understood is this. The evidence is currently overwhelming from the on-the-record witnesses themselves that what happened defies conventional explanation. The craft recovered was not ours, or the Russians. The bodies were not human.
Humanity does not have to go forward saying, “Well, I guess we’ll never know.” We do know. What needs to be done with Roswell now is to convey this to the people of the world. It’s not a mystery. It happened.
Thanks, Don. I’m going to let you say the two words you’ve been dying to say.
No. You know what I’m talking about. C’mon, the Roswell crash. Two words. Think about it.
Here are two other articles about Roswell and crash wreckage from the Trail of the Saucers publication on Medium:
Yes, We Have UFO Crash Wreckage
With the New York Times chasing crashed saucers and Trump talking on-the-record, Roswell remains the original sin of…