In early July 1947, rancher W.W. “Mac” Brazel found wreckage on his ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. Because several “flying saucer” stories had appeared in the press recently, Brazel thought that the wreckage might be something of that sort. He brought some of the material to Sheriff George Wilcox of Roswell, who in turn brought it to the attention of Colonel William Blanchard, the commanding officer of the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF).

• The next day, the RAAF released a statement which declared, “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County.”

• According to that statement, Major Jesse Marcel, an intelligence officer, oversaw the RAAF’s investigation of the crash site and the recovered materials.

• The following day, July 9, 1947, the RAAF released an updated statement declaring that the debris recovered from the crash site had actually been a weather balloon.

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• Two hours west of Roswell, the first atomic bomb was detonated. There was ongoing atomic research at Los Alamos. Researchers at facilities at nearby White Sands were testing captured German V-2 rockets. And the first atomic bomb squadron was headquartered in Roswell. There was a lot of top-secret activity going on in the area, and the release of the statement that a flying saucer had been recovered there would have been excruciatingly painful for the higher-ups who did not want to draw unwanted attention to the area, whether it was true or not.

The matter seemed resolved, and the incident faded into the background for several decades.

• Then, in 1978, a UFO researcher interviewed Jesse Marcel, now retired. Marcel had been in charge of transporting the material from the debris field to the authorities. But now his story changed. He claimed the debris was “not of the Earth.” Marcel’s statements contradicted those he made to the press in 1947. He said he had been forced to stick to the weather balloon story, and that photos of him posing with actual balloon fabric had been set up after the fact. The real material had a “super strength” and included strange writing. His explosive interview was included in a documentary about UFOs, rekindling interest in what became known as The Roswell Incident. More interviews followed; theories were proposed; books were written.

• His son, who had been 11 at the time, was one of the few people who saw the material. He concurred with his father’s statements, and wrote a book in 2007 called “The Roswell Legacy.”

• The government clapped back with a number of ever-changing stories. Finally, in 1994, they admitted that the weather balloon story was fake, claiming it was a cover story for the fact that the wreckage was actually a device meant to float above the USSR in order to detect atomic explosions and monitor nuclear activity. The new report claimed that because it was a covert operation, a false explanation of the crash was necessary to prevent giving away details of their spy work.

• Today, the Roswell Incident remains a defining aspect of the area’s identity: The town boasts a UFO museum and research center, a flying saucer-inspired McDonald’s, alien-themed streetlights, even an extraterrestrial “family” stranded in a broken-down UFO on the side of State Route 285, looking for a jump-start.