Recently, I completed the first two parts of an ongoing series regarding the United States Air Force’s (USAF) accidental missile strike on the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Hobart guided missile destroyer off the coast of Vietnam. The incident occurred on the 17th of June, 1968.Part 1 and Part 2 of that series discussed my discovery of numerous US military records which state that both “enemy helicopters” and “UFOs” were intensely active at the time of the incident. However, during my research phase into this matter, I also found a great number of other Vietnam War-era records, quite aside in time and place than those detailing the with HMAS Hobart. This work
adds to the discoveries made by Boston based researcher Barry Greenwood. While I was trawling America’s huge Defence Technical Information Center (DTIC), he was dealing with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The actual items we have found include “Histories” and “Chronologies”, “Mission Reports”, “Patrol Logs”, “Daily Staff Journals”, and so-called “Lessons Learned” publications. Also, these records come from all four branches of the US Armed Forces, which is fairly unusual.
The question, which I have grappled with previously, is a one of terminology. Is the term “UFO” a “catchall” for anything unknown and flying? One would ask, why wouldn’t military personal simply use terminology like “unknown helicopter” or “unidentified aircraft” or “suspected flak”? The fact of the matter is, they often did. Interestingly though, these more routine terms occurred alongside with, and distinct from, the term “UFO”. But, without more information, we just don’t quite know what fits into the “UFO” basket and what doesn’t. It has been argued that “UFOs” reported during the Vietnam War must have all been North Vietnamese helicopters. With this in mind, it is worth highlighting a United States Army “Daily Journal” entry which was found in the records of the 23rd Infantry Division’s Chu Lai Defense Command. Dated January the 6th, 1969, it says:
“Twr 72 rpts object flying into their area about 700m infront of them, AZ 310°. Object came in slow over the ASP & landed. When object moves it has a glowing light. It is about 15 – 20 ft across. It is shaped like a big egg. Control twr rpts their radar did not pick anything up. Object also does not seem to have any sound to it when it moves.”
This record was actually found, not by us, but by Joe Gillette, a NARA archivist in Washington DC. It was submitted to their official blog, The Text Message – The Blog of the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives.. This is reasonable example of something very peculiar being witnessed and reported by military servicemen, in the vicinity of a military installation. Whatever it was, the notion of a deafening, lumbering North Vietnamese helicopter being responsible is puerile. Without more information, however, we can only treat it as another odd anecdote of wartime history.
During the Vietnam War, the United States Army produced so-called “Lessons Learned” publications. Categorized as a form of “Operational Report”, these special documents were written for the purposes of chronologically recording major operational, in-the-field activities of all the major Army entities – from Field Force echelon down to Battalion level. Now declassified, it turns out that a not-insignificant number of these publications contain interesting references to UFO activity.
One such “Lessons Learned” publication is titled Operational Report – Lessons Learned, Headquarters, I Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 30 April 1969. The report chronologically lays out the activities of the Army’s sizeable I Field Force in Vietnam’s Central Highlands during the months of February, March and April, 1969. Originally classified CONFIDENTIAL, it was distributed by the Department of the Army, Office of the Adjutant General, on the 4th of August, 1969, after being signed off by Maj. Gen. Kenneth G. Wickham. On Page 18, it is briefly stated that:
“During Feb, there were 173 Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) Sightings.” (See above top)
Not to be outdone, Page 25 of the report lists an even higher figure of “UFO sightings” for March, 1969. It reads:
“During Mar, there were 190 UFO Sightings.” (See below)
On Page 27, there is another entry regarding UFOs, and it applies to the month of April, 1969. It is important here to note that there appears to be a mistake in the author’s text. Instead of correctly listing April as the time period being discussed, they have written March. As I said above, March had already been covered with its apparent 190 sightings. To quote exactly, it states:
“During Mar, there were 46 UFO Sightings.”
Of course, “Mar” means April, thus, the sentence should read, “During Apr, there were 46 UFO Sightings.”. Far more interesting, though, is the passage of text immediately following the above sentence. It states:
“During the entire reporting period, concerted efforts were made to identify UFOs. Further discussion of these efforts is precluded by the classification of this report.”
This is something we seldom see. What “concerted efforts” were made “to identify UFOs”? And with what results? Clearly, whatever efforts were undertaken, the details must have been too sensitive to be laid out, even scantly, in a CONFIDENTIAL Army publication. This would imply that the matter was, at minimum, classified SECRET, which is one level of security classification above CONFIDENTIAL. There is, of course, a chance that the matter was classified TOP SECRET, but, without more to go on, we simply do not know. Imaged below is the page in question.
There is no more discussion of UFOs in Operational Report – Lessons Learned, Headquarters, I Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 30 April 1969. In total, during the three months in question, there was a total of 409 UFO sightings made from within the US military. This, by anyone’s measure, is an extremely high number, and, the situation was evidently taken seriously. The fact that these UFO sightings continued to go unresolved must have been troublesome, from a security point of view if nothing else, for the military’s field commanders and other top brass staff. Only a few months later, on the 17th of December, 1969, the Secretary of the USAF, Dr. Robert C. Seamans, Jr, famously announced that, “No UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force was ever an indication of threat to our national security.”. This is understandable, as he was paraphrasing the hogwash he was being fed by Project Blue Book staffers, as well as various other USAF entities. Needless to say, a thorough inspection of the USAF’s Project Blue Book records – both administrative papers and case files – turns up nothing on the 409 UFO sightings listed by the Army’s I Field Force in Vietnam. For those unfamiliar with Project Blue Book, it was the USAF’s flawed twenty-year effort to collection and analyse UFO sightings the world over.
Another US Army “Lessons Learned” publication has mention of UFO’s, and, it is in fact the edition that chronologically leads up to one I detailed above. Titled Operational Report – Lessons Learned, Headquarters, I Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 31 January 1969, the entire document dryly discusses the operational activities of the I Field Force in the Central Highlands of Vietnam for the months of November and December, 1968, and January 1969. It was distributed by the Department of the Army, Office of the Adjutant General, on the 14th of April, 1969, after being signed off for distribution by Maj. Gen. Kenneth G. Wickham. As is standard, it was originally classified CONFIDENTIAL. On Page 17, various field activities for the month of January are laid out, and the UFO issue is taken rather seriously:
“Current action on UFOs was initiated in Nov 68 when the 4th Inf Div requested a Restricted Flying Area/Defense Identification Zone in order to aid in the identification of unidentified flying objects. In early Jan 69, a message was received from COMUSMACV directing that HAWK acquisition radars would be furnished by the 6th Bn 56th Arty, to aid in UFO detection and identification. On or about 25 Jan the following radars were received accompanied by operating personnel: (1) Pulse Acquisition Radar; (2) Continual Wave Acquisition Radar; and (3) Illumination Radar. These were placed in operation the night of 31 Jan with the radar CP located at LZ Oasis. The Air Force provided a liaison officer at the CP. Presently, the Air Force and the 4th Inf Div are gathering data for analysis; the Air Force will not grant engagement clearance while objects are in the air as positive identification as hostile has yet to be determined.”
This unequivocally says that the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division was concerned enough about “unidentified flying objects” to request implementation of strict air identification processes. Furthermore, the Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV) ordered that three types of primary radar systems would be furnished to the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery Brigade to “…aid in UFO detection and identification”. The USAF provided a liaison officer at the central LZ Oasis Command Post (CP), and the “…gathering data for analysis” was underway by the end of January. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the “objects” were not being readily identified. While there is every possibility that these “UFOs” or “objects” were merely North Vietnamese helicopters, there seems to be an awful lot of confusion about the matter. Again, why not simply use terminology such as “unknown helicopter” or “unidentified helicopter”? Also, if the objects were indeed enemy helicopters, would there not be intelligence from the worst affected areas stating such? The sound of military helicopters in flight, or, the discovery of functional bases from where to operate them from, must surely have been known to someone in the US Army. I have imaged the page below.
Some of the most informative records I have located are from the USAF’s “Project CHECO” collection. These detailed reports examined the USAF’s aerial operations in South East Asia. “CHECO” stands for “Contemporary Historical Examination of Current Operations”, and each report has a standard introduction, which states:
“Project CHECO was established in 1962 to document and analyze air operations in Southeast Asia… …Project CHECO and other US Air Force Historical study programs provided the Air Force with timely and lasting corporate insights into operational, conceptual and doctrinal lessons from the war in SEA.”
Previously, in Part 1 of my report into the accidental USAF missile strike on Australia’s HMAS Hobart warship, I discussed a Project CHECO publication titled Project CHECO South East Asia Report: Air War In The DMZ September 1967 – June 1968. It was produced by the 7th Air Force’s (7AF) Directorate of Tactical Evaluation, Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces (HQ PACAF), and was published on the 1st of August, 1969. It was signed off by Col. Warren H. Peterson, and was originally classified SECRET/AIR FORCE EYES ONLY. On Page 45 there is mention of a “joint service conference on the UFO problem”, which I discussed at length. Furthermore, on Page 47 and 48 there is detailed discussion on the attempted photographing, radar tracking and aerial engagement of “UFO targets”, which I also highlighted. I believe though, that some aspects of this need further discussion. On Page 47, it is stated:
“Another facet of target identification involved confirming the many visual, radar, and infrared sightings. No ‘hard evidence’ such as photographs or wreckage was obtained. On three successive August nights, RF–4s flew a total of 12 sorties against 34 radar–plotted UFO targets. The photos showed no helicopters despite several runs which, according to the radar, passed directly over the targets. On 28 August, an RF–4C using photo flash cartridges ran controlled tests to photograph a friendly helicopter at night. Of 38 exposed frames made on four passes, only two frames showed the helicopter. The summary of results to the 7AF Command Section said…”
The author then quotes directly from a classified USAF record:
“This test confirms previous opinion by DOCR that chances of photographing one of the UFOs in the DMZ is extremely remote… …Even the two successful exposures required last minute flight correction by a DOCR representative riding in the lead helicopter.”
The page continues with:
“Two special projects were established to observe the UFOs from Con Thien, the highest hill in the eastern DMZ area. The primary mission of project HAVE FEAR did not concern the helicopter reports, but this Air Force Weapons Laboratory project had laser range finders and night observation devices (NOD) that offered some chance of identifying the sightings. HAVE FEAR personnel saw red lights and got video blips. The UFOs usually traveled at speeds from 30 to 80 mph at altitudes from 1,200 to 1,600 feet. After several days of tracking, the red blinking lights would extinguish when under HAVE FEAR surveillance. The project ran from 4–12 August 1968 and resumed from 18–31 August.”
This topic carries over into Page 48, which states:
“In mid-August, HAVE FEAR was joined by Project LETHAL CHASER, which used manpack radar. From 18 August through 3 September 1968, the several observation systems conducted a joint, integrated search that also employed Waterboy radar. The criteria for a valid track included the UFO being within 11 miles of Con Thien, being unidentified by Jazzy Control, having a track of at least two minutes duration, and traveling at less than 180 mph. This joint effort got 67 valid tracks, but no conclusive identifications.
By late August, the helicopter situation dwindled away into occasional sightings and little new technical data. Several times the peculiarities of the tracks and the lack of confirmation where expected (such as from troops in the plotted area) defied adequate explanation. The 7AF Commander decided the results could not justify continuing the projects and MACV concurred.”
As we can see, there are a number of endnotes in the above text. Endnotes 132 and 135 are listed as a document titled Msg, 7AF to COMUSMACV, “Summary Report of UFOs in DMZ,” 19 Sep 68.. Endnote 133, is listed as Memo, Col Michael J. Quirk, DOC, 7AF, “Test–Night Photo of Helicopters,” undated (About 30 Aug 68). Endnote 134 is listed as Msg, Det 1, 620th TCS to 7AF, “HAVE FEAR,” 25 Aug 68; (S/NF) Memo, “Intelligence Annex (Enemy Helicopters),” undated (Late Aug 68). This leaves no doubt that the information conveyed in these pages was gleaned directly from raw, established USAF authority.
It should be stated that one particular statement in the above passages of text does argue in favour of “UFOs” being nothing more than “helicopters”. That statement is “By late August, the helicopter situation dwindled away into occasional sightings and little new technical data…”. This is stated after the term “UFO” had been used repeatedly, so one has to take into strong consideration that the terminology used could be all-encompassing. Whatever the situation, we don’t often see records that describe such intense efforts to engage unknown, unidentifiable aerial targets, which are repeatedly labelled as “UFOs”. Firstly, steadfast attempts to detect and track very elusive arieal targets, using the resources of the USAF’s WATERBOY Control and Reporting Post at Dong Ha, were, apparently, unsuccessful. Secondly, two special projects, HAVE FEAR and LETHAL CHASER, used laser range finders, night observation devices and mobile radar systems. Yet, they got “no conclusive identifications”. Usually, we only have anecdotal and subjective reports to rely on. But here, we see instrumented efforts to assess unusual aerial activity. Seemingly, these airborne mysteries were never solved. The above mentioned pages are imaged below.
Another Project CHECO publication I discovered is titled Project CHECO Report, Direct Air Support Centers in I CORPS, July 1965 – June 1969. It was produced by the 7th Air Force’s (7AF) Directorate of Tactical Evaluation, Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces (HQ PACAF), and was published on the 31st of August, 1969. Originally classified SECRET/AIR FORCE EYES ONLY, the report was declassified on the 13th of June, 1989. On Page 58, it is stated:
“An additional function mentioned in this report was that of monitoring UFO reports. Information was relayed from forward observation posts through counter-battery intelligence channels to the FSCC, where the liaison team gathered all necessary information into the proper format and passed it on to the appropriate air defense agencies.”
As detailed in the glossary of this Project CHECO report, the term “FSCC” stands for “Fire Support Coordination Center”. Also, the above sentence finishes with the endnote “8”, which is listed asRprt, 20th TASS, Maj W. F. McMillen, “End of Tour Rprt,” 3 Dec 68 (Microfilm S-188), Doc. 31. During the late 1960’s, I CORPS was an allied field force organised within the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The ARVN was the Army component of the South Vietnamese military, and functioned alongside the United States Army, as well as the USAF and US Marine Corps (USMC). The USAF’s 7AF provided air support to I CORPS through its “Direct Air Support Center” (DASC) at Da Nang Airfield. Judging by the passage of text I’ve highlighted above, an “End of Tour” report by one Major McMillen contained information about the monitoring of UFO reports.
A further study of this bulk Project CHECO report reveals, on Page 57, that Major McMillen was the 7AF’s Liaison Team Chief at Headquarters, I CORPS. Evidently, the 7AF were processing UFO case data. The statement “…gathered all necessary information into the proper format” before passing it on “…to the appropriate air defense agencies” can mean nothing else. There was certainly a clear paper trail going on here. Myriad questions come to mind. Just how classified was the 7AF’s collection and dissemination of UFO case data to the “appropriate air defense agencies”? Was there any agreement on what these reports were actually caused by? North Vietnamese helicopters? US reconnaissance on sensitive, unacknowledged missions? Or something else more unsolvable? The page in question is imaged below.
“UFOs”, “helicopters”, or otherwise, the records discovered and detailed here, prove, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that there are still very significant quantities of information completely unseen by researchers. In Part 2 of this series, I will highlight an even wider array of US military documents that were created during the Vietnam War, as well as try to offer some conclusions.
Finally, below, I have imaged the front pages, or, descriptive covering letters, that verify the information I have detailed. Specifically, they are, Operational Report – Lessons Learned, Headquarters, I Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 30 April 1969, Operational Report – Lessons Learned, Headquarters, I Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 31 January 1969, Project CHECO South East Asia Report: Air War In The DMZ September 1967 – June 1968” and Project CHECO Report, Direct Air Support Centers in I CORPS, July 1965 – June 1969.