Boomers Want to Believe “The Truth is Out There”

After an extensive new investigation of reports by military personnel claiming to have observed unidentified flying objects (UFOs), a preliminary report has been released. So, are there flying saucers traipsing about our skies? The answer issued by the U.S. government is … maybe?

There have been reports of flying saucers by people in all walks of life throughout the boomer years and on to the present day. Is it any wonder, then, that boomers want some explanations to what they, their friends and families, have observed for the past 70-plus years?

The granddaddy of all reports is often referred to as the Roswell Incident. It was the summer of 1947 when a rancher near Roswell, New Mexico, discovered debris in a field that he could not identify. He notified the nearby Roswell Army Air Force Field, and base intelligence officers took over the investigation. On July 8, 1947, a press release was issued by the public information officer, Lt. Walter Haut. Haut’s release, approved by base commander Col. William Blanchard, stated the belief that the U.S. had recovered debris from the crash of a UFO — a flying saucer. The next day, another press release was issued, this one from higher up the ranks. Gen. Roger Ramsey released information that the debris was not from an alien spacecraft, but just a weather balloon that crashed in a thunderstorm. Nothing to see here, move along, folks.

By then it was too late; word had spread based on the original press release. The headline of the Roswell Daily Record on July 8, 1947 stated, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”

The origin of the phrase “flying saucer” is in dispute. However, most sources agree the first mention of the phrase in U.S. newspapers happened a month before Roswell, in June of 1947. It was then that Kenneth Arnold, an experienced pilot from Idaho, was flying his small plane near Mt. Rainier in Washington, on his way to an air show in Oregon. Arnold spotted a group of objects traveling at a high rate of speed. He clocked the time the objects took to travel between Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, and estimated the unidentified objects were flying at 1,700 mph — twice the speed of sound. It would be another four months — October of 1947 — before Chuck Yaeger would break the sound barrier in his historic flight. Arnold had stopped for refueling in Washington at an airfield where he was known, and told staff what he had seen. Word quickly spread and by the next day, Arnold was inundated with questions from West Coast press. He recounted his story, describing the group of aircraft as unidentified flying objects, adding they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.” Newspapers interpreted that to mean, a flying saucer. The story headline in The Chicago Sun from June 26, 1947, stated, “Supersonic Flying Saucers Sighted by Idaho Pilot.”

The U.S. Air Force started investigating UFOs a year later, with a project named Operation Sign. In 1952, it was renamed Project Blue Book. There were more than twelve thousand reports of UFOs documented in Project Blue Book from 1947 to 1969, when the project ended. There are seven hundred of these incidents that remain “unidentified.”

Boomers know all too well the sci-fi movies of the 1950s that were spawned by these early sightings. Imaginations ran wild as the vast majority of the films did not surmise our visitors came in peace.

On a warm summer evening in the early 1960s, Mister Boomer engaged in a game of hide-and-seek. His neighborhood was filled with kids from the age of six to sixteen (baby boomers!). On his block, kids of various ages often played together, from baseball games to summer evening hide-and-seek extravaganzas (a large tree was the “safe” spot. The game had finished, and groups of parents could be heard on various porches, talking and drinking various beverages, from lemonade to beer and cocktails. Meanwhile Mister B, his sister and three other kids retreated into the coolness of the grass near the street, in front of his house. The kids lay on their backs, staring up at a clear sky that displayed more stars than usual, the view often muffled by air pollution in his industrial area.

Ever the dreamer, Mister B tried to identify constellations he had heard about in school. He thought he had found the Big Dipper, and the North Star. Intently observing his spot in the night sky, he saw three stars in a triangle form that appeared to flicker. He pointed it out to his neighborhood companions, and they remarked on the twinkling of these little stars. His sister was uninterested. Then, one star began to flicker brighter and faster. Mister B was not at all sure what he was seeing, but he kept watching as the white-yellow light became brighter, until the other two stars in the triangle began to do the same thing. They did not appear to be twinkling in unison, just fairly frantic flickering in varying degrees of brightness. A few seconds later, the original twinkler changed colors; first it went to blue, then to red, toggling between yellow, blue and red faster and faster until all of sudden, the three “stars” disappeared in three directions from their triangle formation. Jumping up from the grass, Mister B exclaimed, “Did you see that?” One of the kids shrieked and ran home. Another said he didn’t see it. Mister B told his parents, who were involved in conversation with neighbors. He was summarily dismissed and told it was time to go into the house.

Now, Mister Boomer isn’t saying he saw flying saucers. They were points of light, but they definitely moved extremely quickly once they left their origin spots in the sky. That qualifies as unidentified in Mister B’s book. Within a couple of years, his father had not one, but two UFO sightings he mentioned to the family. In fact, both were seen by multiple people who reported them to city police. One was a cigar shape, the other, more of the classic saucer. He was not at all convinced by the explanations given by local authorities.

Despite Project Blue Book investigations having been officially closed for more than four decades, UFO sightings continued. In recent years, there has been an increase in sightings by U.S. military personnel, which prompted the U.S. Senate to ask the Air Force to launch a new investigation of these reports since 2006. They started by rebranding UFO to UAPunidentified aerial phenomena. The preliminary report of their findings was released on June 25, 2021, and their findings were inconclusive. However, 18 of the incidents were classified as involving unusual movement or flight characteristics.

What the Air Force did report on these UAPs was:
• They pose no threat to national security
• There is no evidence of technology in use beyond present-day scientific knowledge
• There is no evidence of extraterrestrial origin
• There is no evidence that the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico incident was a UFO, and the government does not possess any dead alien bodies

How about it, boomers? Case closed? Did you or someone or know see a UFO/UAP in your boomer years?

Boomers Watched the “Vast Wasteland” of TV

On May 9, 1961, Newton Minow, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), delivered a speech at a convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. He had been appointed by President John Kennedy shortly after taking office that January. In his speech, Minow berated and challenged broadcasters by telling them that the current state of TV programming was a “vast wasteland.”

Mr. Minow was 35 years old when Kennedy appointed him as chair of the FCC, despite not having experience in the media industry. A lawyer by trade, Mr. Minow was known to the Kennedys, having worked as a law clerk for Fred Vinson, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and then on the presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy’s successful run for the presidency. Mr. Minow reportedly had frequent conversations with the president’s brother, Robert, then the Attorney General of the United States, about children’s television programming. The two men shared a concern that children (baby boomers!) were not being taught anything of substance on TV, either from a cultural, civic or history perspective or for academic advancement. Both men shared the belief that television had a great deal of potential to fill that need. Soon after, President Kennedy shared their concerns.

Mr. Minow stated:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.

Minow went on to say that he believed if TV viewers were offered more choice, they would tune in to more educational and cultural programming. He was not looking to regulate, censor or affect broadcasters, other than to keep them in line with current FCC regulations, to serve the public interest and expand viewer choices.

Reaction to Mr. Minow’s speech were mostly positive, but some saw his words as meddling in an area in which he had no experience. In 1964, Sherwood Schwartz, the creator and producer of the TV show Gilligan’s Island (1964-67), named the ill-fated sailing vessel that begins the show’s storyline the S.S. Minnow as a satiric barb aimed at Mr. Minow.

The same year Newton Minow gave his speech, he advocated for a bill making its way though Congress that would expand the number of TV stations in the country. There were only three major broadcasting networks, and they were ensconced on the available VHF channels. Local broadcasters operating on UHF channels were being pushed out of business because most TV sets were not equipped to tune in to UHF channels. The All-Channel Receiver Act, introduced in 1961 and passed in 1962, required that all TV sets sold in the United States be equipped to receive these extra channels. This bill paved the way for more educational television like Sesame Street (first aired in 1969), the creation of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the new networks Fox, Univision and Telemundo.

Newton Minow also advocated for the advancement of communications satellites. The Space Race was underway, but Minow had a vision of what worldwide communications could do to inform people and assist nations in working out their differences. President Kennedy took the advice of his FCC chair and in 1962, Telstar, the first U.S. communications relay satellite, was launched.

Boomers may or may not remember the specifics of these historical undertakings, but there is no question that baby boomers benefited from the added TV channels and more access to educational television that happened as a result of Newton Minow’s vision and public service.

Was the addition of more educational television part of your school or home viewing, boomers?