Early on 8 July 1947, a press release issued by the 509th Bomb Group based in Roswell, New Mexico revealed to the world’s media that something incredible had happened: a UFO had crashed in the area, and the United States Army Air Forces was now in possession of a “flying disk”.
The news was issued by 1st Lt. Walter Haut, the public information officer at the base, at the behest of base commander and close personal friend, Colonel William Blanchard.
By day’s end, the information was retracted and a new press release was issued claiming a mistake had been made and that the UFO was, in fact, a crashed weather balloon – a turn of events that made Haut a figure of public ridicule.
“People began to talk about Roswell in the late ’70s after several decades of keeping quiet, and I would ask Dad to tell me the whole story, and he told me the same thing he told everybody: ‘I put out the press release’, and nothing else,” says Julie Shuster, Haut’s daughter.
Although he was sworn to secrecy by Colonel Blanchard in regards to what he knew about the Roswell incident, Haut devised a way in 2002 to both keep his word and reveal what he knew – by preparing a signed affidavit to be opened after his death.
“Don Schmitt, one of the world’s leading UFO researchers, Dad considered a friend, and we were trying to save the information Dad knew for the future because we were unfortunately losing a lot of the first-hand witnesses,” says Shuster.
One of those lost first-hand witnesses was Major Jesse Marcel, head intelligence officer at the Roswell Army Air Field in 1947 and the first person to arrive at the crash site. Marcel may have left behind a cryptic journal – the subject of the new series Roswell: The First Witness, which premieres 27 July on SBS VICELAND – but Haut was adamant he wanted to leave behind information that was crystal clear.
“Don and I talked to my Dad, and we said ‘Do you want to do a written statement for release after your death?’, and he agreed to it,” Shuster continues. “We were very careful. My Dad was very particular, so he and I went over it word by word, sentence by sentence just to make sure there was no question about what was written.”
After Haut’s death in 2005, the affidavit was published in 2007’s Witness to Roswell: Unmasking the Government’s Biggest Cover-Up, a book co-authored by Schmitt and Thomas Carey.
“Don and I became friends with Walter, and by observing his facial expressions and the way he talked, you’d think, ‘That there is a man keeping a big secret’,” says Carey. “Finally it all came out in his sealed statement after he died.”
What Haut’s affidavit revealed was that not only was his initial press release about a recovered “flying disk” accurate, but that there were two crash sites at Roswell, and he himself had witnessed first-hand what had fallen from the sky that fateful night in 1947.
“Basically Dad said yes, he did see the bodies, yes he did see the craft and much more than that,” says Shuster. “At one point I asked him about the size, and he said the craft was about 25 feet in diameter.
“To me, hearing what Dad said was not a surprise because he was very close to Colonel Blanchard. They remained friends for all those years, and I would’ve been very surprised if he had not seen it.”
“Walter confirmed to Don and I that the reason he kept everything a secret is because he promised Colonel Blanchard that he would not divulge the secret while he lived,” confirms Carey. “And he didn’t – he divulged it when he was gone. That’s the reason he kept quiet. It was like a father–son relationship, and he’d promised Blanchard he would not talk.”
After years of carrying a huge, reality-changing secret relating to possibly the biggest and most important cover-up in human history, Haut had finally revealed everything he knew to his daughter, Schmitt, and Carey.
“The ship which he described was about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, more of an egg-shaped object, and he did see a number of bodies,” says Carey. “He described them as being the size of children. And when asked point blank if what he believed it was that he had seen, without hesitation he’d say, ‘It was not from this Earth, it was something manufactured off this Earth.’”
Carey and Schmitt found dozens of other witnesses for their book, each one verifying Haut’s claims.
“Those describing the bodies would become very emotional,” says Schmitt. “One of the officers involved, he broke down and just said ‘I can’t get the faces out of my mind.’ His wife even told us how they’d been unable to sleep in the same room for almost 30 years because he’d jolt up in the middle of the night and scream and yell out because he kept having flashbacks, because he saw the faces, he saw the bodies.
“We had another officer who was also very traumatised by it, and it reminded him of being a young boy and seeing his uncle in a coffin, of how ashen-grey he looked, and it caused him a lot of post-experience trauma. As one witness put it to us, ‘It’s the first thing I think of when I get up in the morning, and it’s the last thing I think of when I go to bed at night.’ You’re talking about guys who had just seen the worst horrors of World War II, yet this is the one thing that surpassed the trauma of that.”
A Roswell native, Shuster knew several townspeople who had witnessed the crash but were threatened into keeping quiet.
“There was a lady, and her husband and her sister were both involved in the incident, and she wouldn’t tell me anything,” says Shuster. “Finally she said to me, ‘I’m going to say this once, don’t ever ask me or my sister about this again, ever, because we promised my husband on his deathbed that we would never reveal what he told us.’ To me, that is such a telling statement – all that over a weather balloon? You’re promising your husband on his deathbed that you won’t reveal it was a weather balloon? That to me says tons.”
[Note: this interview was conducted before Julie Shuster’s death in 2015.]
Want to know more about what happened? Roswell: The First Witness is streaming at SBS On Demand: