In anticipation of the March 11th release of Columbia Pictures’ Battle: Los Angeles, a film about the efforts of a team of military personnel to thwart an alien invasion in the City of Angels, the studio recently staged a press conference with a group of “UFO experts” to talk about both the real Battle of Los Angeles – an intriguing, little-known event that took place in the skies above Santa Monica on February 24th and 25th, 1942 (can you say “anniversary“?) – as well as their own anecdotal experiences with UFO phenomena. See inside for the full story, as related by B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen.
That quote may sound like a snippet of dialogue straight from the trailer of the latest Hollywood alien invasion movie – delivered by some cryptic, gray-haired expert on UFO phenomena – and it certainly could’ve been, except that this particular cryptic, gray-haired expert was no actor, and this conference room at the Casa del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica, CA was no movie set. Rather, it was an attempt by Sony to drum up excitement and publicity for Battle: Los Angeles, the movie, by shedding light on the “real” Battle: Los Angeles – that being an alleged (by a few steadfast conspiracy theorists, anyway) skirmish with UFOs which took place in the skies above the City of Angels back in February 1942.
On the panel before us, in addition to Mr. Birnes, were Mark Easter – Director of Public Relations for MUFON, a non-profit organization dedicated to the “scientific study” of UFO phenomena; Robert Salas, a former U.S. Air Force officer who himself claims to possess solid, irrefutable evidence of a UFO encounter; and Charles Halt, another former U.S. Air Force officer who made an audio recording of an event during which he and several others at the RAF Bentwaters base near Woodbridge, England allegedly witnessed a UFO landing in the surrounding forests.
Me, I was the skeptical journalist that had just been forced to drag my ass out of bed at 7:30 in the morning to make a 9am press conference across town (in rush hour traffic, I might add) that was to feature a group of UFOlogists giving PowerPoint presentations on their supposed encounters with flying saucers. Man, it’s a strange business.
But I digress. You were saying, Mr. Birnes?
“Will the government ever disclose [proof of the existence of] UFOs?” he rhetorically asked the room of glaze-eyed journalists (where in the hell is Michelle Rodriguez? we found ourselves wondering). “Well, the fact is, the existence and reality of the UFOs have already been disclosed. You can see it on YouTube, you can see it on the internet, you can see it on cell phone cameras. The Rex Heflin photos [photos taken by an Orange County highway inspector of an alleged flying saucer] were disclosure of UFOs. What people want to know is, ‘will there be a confirmation of the disclosure of UFOs?’ And I think that’s the bigger issue than ‘will UFOs be disclosed?’ Five U.S. presidents have admitted to the existence of UFOs in some way, shape, or form.”
You can imagine what it must have been like listening to all of this without yet even having had my morning cup of coffee (that unforgiving L.A. traffic gave me no quarter on the morning in question). In a word: tedious.
And they went on, and on, and on…and…oh, sorry. Here’s Mark Easter (whose super-serious, “scientifically-based” non-profit’s website – known as MUFON – boasts a cute little graphic of a cow being beamed up into an alien spaceship):
“Just keep in mind, ‘UFO’ means ‘Unidentified Flying Object’“, he pointed out, as if none of us had ever once seen an episode of The X-Files before. “As far as MUFON and what we do, we do try to identify what people see. And there’s so much to the Mutual UFO Network…but basically again we are voluntary. We have what you’d call almost like a military chain of command, from an international director to every state has a state director. Under them we have chief investigators, and then below them we have physical certified field investigators that put boots on the ground. If somebody sees in any state a UFO, and they know about our online report form…by the way, if you walk away with nothing from me other than www.mufon.com, you can do all your own research at your own leisure if you desire. Mufon.com.”
In other words, if you swear-to-god you just saw some crazy shit going down in the sky above your hometown of, say, Gluestick, North Dakota, you too, friend, can log an anonymous report over at MUFON’s website. And then…I don’t know, go play horseshoes or something.
Anyway, as it turns out, the “real extraterrestrial invasion” linked to the film – aka the Great Los Angeles Air Raid, or “Battle of Los Angeles“, of 1942 – was merely one anecdote in an endless series of anecdotes, regurgitated for nearly an hour and a half (I’m not kidding) by a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorists searching for meaning in their post-retirement years.
Nevertheless, the “true events” which allegedly inspired the film are admittedly quite compelling, regardless of whether you count yourself as a believer or a skeptic in UFO phenomena. It all began in the late evening of February 24th, 1942. I’ll let William Birnes take it from here.
“The motion picture is called ‘Battle: Los Angeles’“, he began. “There really was a battle of Los Angeles. And there really was a battle of Los Angeles involving, we believe, a UFO. At least that’s what the War Department said. It took place in January of 1942, weeks after Pearl Harbor, when an unidentified flying object flew right here, Santa Monica Beach and Redondo Beach. Thousands of thousands of anti-aircraft shells – because the batteries were mobilized – thousands and thousands of shells were fired at this object. Searchlights lit up the night sky. They couldn’t hit it. They couldn’t bring it down.
“What was it?” he continued, speaking in excited, aggressive tones. “The official story was it was a balloon. But air raid wardens in Santa Monica and Redondo Beach or from the city of L.A. were told that it was an unidentified flying object. A piece of it came down, and I hope to get my hands on that piece and analyze it. But 1942, the Battle of LA was a real battle with what was probably a UFO over Santa Monica Bay.”
But ah, see, skim over the last two paragraphs again. As was later pointed out by one astute journalist in the audience, Birnes never actually used the word “aliens” or “extraterrestrials” when describing the incident (nor any of the other incidents related by the panelists before the room was opened up to questions).
In other words, the alleged phenomena sighted in the sky that evening were “Unidentified Flying Objects” – i.e., they could have been basically anything. Some even believe there weren’t actually any objects present at all, and that the entire incident – during which over 1,400 shells were fired and six people were killed – was a simple case of frayed nerves following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that had taken place a mere two months previously. In 1983, the U.S. Office of Air Force History seemed to confirm that theory, more or less, by releasing an account of the bizarre occurrence which concluded that the “battle“, as it has been dubbed, was initially triggered by a wayward weather balloon and later compounded by the raft of firepower sent screaming into the night sky by military ground forces, in effect creating the appearance of a serious threat where none actually existed.
Nevertheless, conspiracy theories continue to abound, and given that this was a press junket for a sci-fi/action movie about a hostile alien invasion of Planet Earth, Birnes’ implication that extraterrestrials were the actual cause of the disturbances that February day – despite the fact of him never referring to it as an “alien attack” – was pretty clear.
For their part, Halt and Salas – the two former Air Force officers who both claim to have witnessed UFO sightings in some form or another – didn’t have much, if anything, to say about the “Battle of Los Angeles” but rather described for us their own anecdotal encounters with inexplicable manifestations.
“In 1967, I was a missile launch officer, meaning I had control of nuclear weapons, specifically the Minuteman 1 missile…at Malstrom Air Force Base, Montana“, recounted Salas, speaking in the serious, no-nonsense tone typical of an ex-military type. Known as the “Echo Flight” incident, this alleged UFO encounter began with a spontaneous “shutdown” of all ten missiles housed at the base – an unprecedented occurrence that coincided with a UFO sighting by several personnel (though Salas himself did not personally witness their purported appearance). This was followed about a week later by a similar event at a neighboring missile facility known as Oscar Flight, located just a few miles south of where the first sighting had taken place.
“I was on duty at Oscar Flight…the main guard calls down and he says, ‘sir, I’ve been seeing some strange lights up here making odd maneuvers, going very, very fast. Making 90 degree turns.’“, said Salas, who was stationed underground and therefore didn’t witness the alleged UFOs himself. “I took it at face value, but I didn’t know what else to say to him, so I hung up. And then about five minutes he calls back, and this time he’s screaming into the phone, he’s very frightened. He’s got all the guards out there with their weapons drawn. And he said, ‘sir, I’m looking at the front gate, and I see this glowing red object, it’s oval-shaped, it’s about 30 feet long, and it’s just hovering over the front gate.’”
This was followed by a simultaneous shutdown of all the missiles at Oscar Flight, the same as had happened eight days before at the Echo Flight facility. According to Salas, this concurrent shutdown of every single missile at the compound would have been an impossible feat for mere mortals.
“This is part of one of the reports we got“, said Salas, as an image of an official-looking government-sanctioned document flashed onto the large projection screen at the front of the room. “They claimed it was the logic coupler, which is part of the guidance package for the [missile] system…[but] the possibility of this is very remote, due to the fact that all ten couplers would have to fail…within a few seconds of each other. All of the missiles were independent. So if you wanted to shut down all ten missiles, you’d have to do them one at a time. These went down within seconds of each other. And in order to do that, something would’ve had to have penetrated 65 feet of earth and concrete and also penetrated a triply-shielded cabling system that we had for these kind of sensitive channels, and we…probably don’t have anything now that could do something like that.”
In Salas’ estimation, the fact that the Montana incidents were never properly investigated was the result of a conspiracy involving the U.S. military, Boeing [the chief contractor in support of the Minutemen missiles] and nuclear physicist Edward Condon, who from 1966-68 headed up a controversial government-sanctioned investigation suggesting that, based on the overall body of evidence, there was no scientific knowledge to be gained from the further study of UFOs. The ex-military officer has since written a book entitled Faded Giant that details the “true story” behind the 1967 sightings, and what he sees as the “whitewashing” of those incidents by the U.S. government.
Unlike Salas, Halt – a curious man with, shall we say, a rather less-than-electric speaking manner – didn’t utilize the assistance of any fancy-pants Powerpoint presentations to tell his story. No, instead he proceeded to ramble on…and on…and on…and…[sigh]. Anyway, the then-Colonel had recently been reassigned from the Pentagon to RAF Bentwaters Air Force base in rural England when a series of UFO sighting events – collectively known as the “Rendlesham Forest Incident” – took place over the span of two days in the surrounding woods.
“On December 26th, early in the morning December 26th, our patrolman noticed some strange lights off the back gate of Woodbridge“, recalled Halt – Woodbridge being another military base in the close vicinity of Bentwaters. “At first they thought an airplane had crashed. So they called back-up forces up, they called air control centers, and said ‘we see strange red, green, blue, and white lights in the forest. It looks like a downed aircraft’. The control centers called, the air traffic controllers, they called Heathrow, they called eastern radar, who provided air defense for our sector. The same thing came back from all centers. Nothing flying, nothing in the air, nothing down.”
Puzzled by this, three men were sent into the surrounding forest to investigate the strange lights, where they reported coming upon a “shiny black” craft covered in strange writing. During this time, Halt reported that radio contact was lost with the men for about a 45-minute period. On their return, the patrolmen reported feelings of extreme confusion and, according to Halt, all three have since undergone “regression hypnosis” to recover the lost period of time.
Two nights later during a staff holiday party, one of Halt’s Lieutenants reported seeing more strange lights out in the forest, after which Halt decided to accompany the Lieutenant and several other personnel to investigate. He described what they witnessed there thusly:
“We look out in the forest, there’s this bright red, glowing object. It was elliptical, I’m guessing 15 to 18 inches, maybe a little bigger. I can’t tell for sure. It had a black center, and it sorta winked like an eye. It moved horizontally through the trees, avoiding the trees, bobbing up and down vertically as it went to avoid branches. It came toward us at one point, and it receded and went out into the farmer’s field, which was beyond the edge of the forest. And I noticed at that time the farmer’s house, which was directly across the field, was glowing like it was on fire. A reflection from the object… just as suddenly, it exploded silently into five white objects and disappeared.”
And, later: “We crossed the farmer’s field…and looked back, and we saw two objects in the sky. They were elliptical, sort of like a Cherokee moon. Lit up, bright red, blue, and green, and white. While we were watching them, they moved in high-speed and sharp angular movements, as though they were doing a grid search. And they turned from elliptical into complete circles but still stayed well-illuminated. About the same time we noticed several objects to the south in the sky…one of the objects to the south at a very high speed approached, stopped overhead, at three, maybe four thousand feet, and sent down a beam at our feet. The best way I can equate it is a laser beam, it didn’t radiate like a light does, it came straight down, it was ten, twelve, fifteen inches in diameter…and just as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared…and the object receded…”
Luckily, Halt just so happened to have brought a tape recorder with him that night (“to take notes“), on which the events of the evening were recorded (you can listen to the first part of the tape here). With the help of the others he also managed to make plaster casts of three indentations in the ground that he believes were made by one of the mysterious crafts; as a matter of fact, he’d brought one of the casts with him, and momentarily pulled it out to show us (“[The other two] have since disappeared mysteriously“, he claimed, in a statement filled with grim innuendo). The subsequent report written by Halt, as well as a leaked copy of the tape recording, later found their way into the hands of the press, which later resulted in his being invited to make an appearance on Unsolved Mysteries. He accepted, and now claims that participating in the program led to the ruin of his professional reputation (sounds about right).
“I pretty much lost all my senior officer friends by coming forward and saying this, but once the tape and the memo got out, what choice did I have, to be honest with you?” he challenged. “Might as well have the truth [out] in the public. So here we are today. Kind of shocking, I know, but I’ll be happy to entertain questions afterwards, and we’ll go from there.”
So what does all this have to do, really, with Battle: Los Angeles, a fictional, effects-heavy Hollywood construction about full-scale warfare with alien life forms? Despite the (at least well-faked) sincerity of the four men on that panel, it’s transparently all in service of “confirming” the fears of a gullible American public that, based on the results of several polls over the years, largely believes in the existence of UFOs. In other words, exploiting the genuine beliefs of millions of Americans in order to boost those opening-weekend ticket sales. Ah, Hollywood.