By Larry W. Bryant
If you can judge by the various letters written to him by citizens
during his terms in office, President Harry S. Truman truly was
"The People's President." And nowhere is this judgment more apropos
than when you consider the letters sent his way by persons convinced
that the subject of "flying saucers" deserved his direct, serious attention.
The collected letters -- or at least that portion that somehow escaped
referral to the Department of Defense for reply -- now reside at the
Truman Library in Independence, Mo. There, they share the shelves
With such missives as (1) citizens' requests that Truman lift the
embargo on arms shipments to Palestine; (2) a women's group's telegram
seeking a personal interview with Truman to discuss the status of
proposed legislation aimed at setting up a U.S. Customs Border Patrol
so as to improve the enforcement of antismuggling laws in relation to
narcotics; and (3) parents' pleas that their sons be released from
military prison so they can rejoin their families.
Amidst that potpourri of issues and concerns major and minor to a
president who united the nation during wartime transition, what's so
special about the correspondence on things that go swish in the night?
For one thing, Truman might have been the only president ever to have
received a formal briefing on the "UFO problem" from Air Force
intelligence experts -- if you can accept that revelation as voiced in
a l956 book by former USAF "Project Blue Book" chief Edward
For another thing, Truman resided in the White House during the famous
UFO-sighting "flap" near Washington, D.C., back in 1952. Third, it was
Truman who was instrumental in establishing the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency, which to this day insists on denying public access
to some 57 of the UFO-related documents that surfaced some years ago
via litigation under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
Then there are the letters themselves -- a cross-section of views,
concerns, suggestions, and explanations about a problem so touchy (and
sometimes zany) that only a few citizens dared confide in their
president. Lucky for them (and him), in retrospect, that this man
Truman was so attuned to the American psyche that he was able to weather
the growth of UFO interest with just the right mix of detachment and
solicitude. (Maybe his approach has served ever since as the model
for presidential response to the UFO problem.)
Although most of the letters wound up being referred to the Defense
Department (Air Force) for direct reply to the writer, a few did
Remain in the White House files. Apparently, each of them underwent
indexing upon arrival -- under the writer's name, address, and date.
A White House staffer synopsized each letter in a cross-reference log.
Here are some excerpts quoted from the log; for most entries, I've
added a commentary from my perspective as an historian of the "politics
Pioneers Petition the President
Kenneth Arnold of Boise, Idaho (4/6/48): In a telegram, the man whose
UFO encounter of June 24, 1947, sparked the coinage of "flying saucers"
as a household word had this advice for Truman: "Your Honor, I
understand there is enough evidence on hand by our intelligence and
the people of your great country to announce that flying disks, flying
saucers and other reported strange missiles that are being seen by
reliable people throughout the world daily are aircraft from outer
space. You know we are not making or flying these aircraft and the
United States is the most scientific nation on earth. Why should not
America be at least the first to announce this great discovery?"
Although the White House never acknowledged the telegram, Arnold felt
obliged to communicate once more: on Dec. 13, 1951, he sent a copy of
his booklet "The Flying Saucer as I Saw It." At the time of the
telegram, he was 31 years old. He died in January 1984 -- never to
see the resolution of a public issue that rages on throughout the world.
* * *
Meade Layne of San Diego, Calif. (4/7/50): Writing as the founding
director of Borderland Sciences Research Associates, this True
Believer in extraterrestrialism announces: "It is our earnest hope
that, as a matter of public interest and policy, you will find time
to examine the enclosed booklet. It is not necessary to point out
to your Excellency that an extremely difficult situation may develop
at any hour, in connection with the phenomena referred to in this
"Allow us to assure you that we serve no selfish interests in this
matter, and stand ready to comply with any request for information
or service which may be in our power to give."
The 38-page booklet, which remains part of the Truman papers, is
Titled "Flying Discs -- The Ether Ship Mystery and Its Solution."
This hodge-podge of metaphysical discussion and interpretation on the
origin, purpose, and scope of the reported flying saucers ended up
being referred to the National Academy of Sciences. On May 1, 1950,
the Academy's executive secretary wrote back to Truman's secretary,
stating that Layne's organization apparently deals with phenomena
outside the field of the Academy, and suggesting that if Layne's
communication "is to be given serious consideration it be referred
to some philosophical organization." With that, Truman's secretary,
then William D. Hassett, sent this reply to Layne: "Your interest in
making available to him [Truman] the enclosures which accompanied your
letter is very much appreciated and you may be sure they will be given
* * *
Leon Davidson of Arlington, Va. (9/7/52): This tenacious, indefatigable
prober-polemicist requested, as described by the correspondence log, "a
list of the official statements or press releases made by the President,
or the White House, on the subject of Flying Saucers since 1947. States
if the statements are long, a mere reference to the date of issue would
be sufficient." In later years,Davidson won fame for his persistence in
prying loose from the Air Force a copy of its Project Blue Book Special
Report No. 14, which he reprinted for wider distribution in a never-ending
campaign to prove that most of the "saucers" were man-made, experimental
devices. His persistence in going after CIA UFO documentation gave that
agency heartburn long before its current headaches over the power of the
Freedom of Information Act.
* * *
Robert Spencer Carr of Clearwater, Fla. (7/31/52): From the log:
"Writer encloses miscellaneous material relative to 'flying saucers' --
suggestions for contact. Respectfully referred to the Department of
the Air Force for appropriate handling."
It was Carr who, back in the early seventies, traveled the lecture
circuit and radio talk-show route in a short-lived effort to convince
the public that the government has all the information it needs about
the saucers -- based on the USAF retrieval of crash-landed discs and
some of their crew members. That contention thrives in some UFO-research
circles today, of course.
The Roots of Official UFO Secrecy
Carr's fixation with retrieved saucers might have got its impetus from
the notorious 1950 book by Hollywood columnist Frank Scully, "Behind
the Flying Saucers," which was cited by a man in New Orleans
>From the log: "Requests President's comment re this.
Threatens to publicize his letter if he does not receive an answer.
Critical of the Pentagon. (consideration and appropriate handling.)"
* * *
Then there's a fellow from Cleveland (8/9/52): "The writer relates
a personal experience which happened in October, 1947, near Reno, Nevada,
at which time he saw a formation of shining globular objects from which
something, perhaps a parachutist, catapulted to the earth. He disapproves
the theory of interterrestial [sic] bodies and advances his theory that
the source of these objects is Eurasia and suggests that they are being
used as a means of enemy infiltration. Whatever the source, the writer
feels that as full a disclosure as possible should be made by official
Washington since these saucers may present a serious military threat about
which the American public deserves to know."
* * *
Someone (gender unknown) from Waurika, Okla. (8/26/52), enclosed
clippings: "One article [was] by a Navy officer who said he knew the
location of a saucer but was not permitted to tell where it is as the
United States and Mexico hid it. Also refers to article about a man
In Florida who claims his hair was singed by a flying saucer. Would
like an explanation regarding these articles."
* * *
A man from Chicago (10/29/52) "refers to the Air Force report re Flying
saucers as well as article by Robert S. Allen on this subject dated
Sept. 26. States he does not believe that such matters should have to
be investigated by private citizens. He hopes the secrecy of the Air
Force will be lifted, etc."
* * *
>From Dinuba, Calif. (7/30/52), a man "urges that the Air Force inform
the public as to the results of the investigation."
* * *
Then, a woman from Tucson (7/28/52) "opposes the secrecy in re to the
Flying Saucers. Believes the public should be given a complete report."
* * *
Finally, from Baltimore (9/13/50): a man "refers to article entitled
'Flying Saucers' appearing in the October 1950 issue of Pageant
Magazine, and feels the American people should be told the truth about
the saucer reports. He asks if a cover-up attempt is being made on
the part of the Air Force and Department of Defense."
Echoes of "The Roswell Incident"
One White House file-record sheet identifies letters from eight
Separate persons -- all written during the time frame July 5 -- 9,
1947, which coincides with the reported crash-landing of a disc(s)
near Roswell, N.M. (as recounted in the 1980 book "The Roswell Incident,"
by William L. Moore -- Grosset & Dunlap, New York; and thereafter in
several other Roswell-focused books/articles/docudramas). Each of
these letters was "respectfully referred to the War Department for
To Kill or Not to Kill
A woman (with others not named) from Los Angeles (7/29/52) requests
"that the Air Force not fire on the 'flying saucers,' as they have not
attempted any harm upon any persons or properties."
* * *
Likewise, another woman, from Ocean Park, Calif. (8/1/52), "opposes the
recent order from the War Department to fire upon the 'flying saucers.'
Gives her views re the 'saucers' and offers suggestions re same."
* * *
>From Albany, Ga. (7/28/52), a man "urges the Air Force to
refrain from attacking the so-called 'flying saucers.'"
* * *
In her letter from Hollywood, Calif. (7/29/52), a woman "comments on
reports of the so-called Flying Saucers and suggests they may contain
highly intelligent humans and that an effort should be made to contact
them in a friendly manner."
* * *
Echoing that sentiment was a man from Indio, Calif. (7/30/52):
"Referring to the report that our armed planes have been ordered
to shoot down a flying saucer for investigation, the writer suggests
that we had better cultivate the friendship of the space visitors and
perhaps save ourselves from annihilation. Says that a friendly gesture
would be supplied if the President were to issue a proclamation ordering
our military and all private citizens to welcome space visitors and treat
them with the utmost consideration should they choose to land among us."
* * *
For his part, an irate New Yorker (7/29/52) "requests by what
authority, orders to shoot down the so-called 'flying saucers' were
given – states that the makers and operators of these devices are vastly
more powerful than the United States -- such orders would be equivalent
to a declaration of war. Requests and urges President to immediately
countermand these orders. States further, that unless he is informed
promptly, that such orders have been countermanded, his letter will be
given to the Press."
* * *
A telegram from a man in Glen Ellyn, Ill. (7/29/52), "suggests that no
offensive action be taken against the objects reported as unidentified,
which have been sighted over the nation -- (Flying Saucers) --offensive
action might result in grave consequences -- alieniating [sic] US from
beings of far superior powers -- suggests friendly contacts."
* * *
But then we have the sentiments of a resident in The Green Killaloe,
Co Clare, Eire, Ireland (6/22/52): "Writer states she read about
Flying Saucers seen over New York. 'Don't be too easy with them, bring
them down, show no mercy.' Comments that to make airplanes noiseless,
cover their engines with felt and rubber."
The draft of this report contains too much material to include with
This printing. Sections omitted here are titled "Inventors Invite
Investigation" (several letters proposing this or that means for
duplicating saucers' construction/propulsion); "UFO Curios" (referring
to some 3-dimensional items sent to Truman); "The Theory File" (letters
showing the wide range of citizens' theories on the origin/purpose of
the saucers); "Words of Wisdom from the Children" (letters that show
the sincerity -- and intensity -- of society's younger seekers of UFO
Wanted: UFO Pen Pals
A male graduate student in journalism at the University of California
(Los Angeles) (4/5/50) wrote this inquiry to Truman's secretary,
Charles G. Ross:
"I am currently engaged in research for a graduate dissertation
Which will attempt to analyze the sociological and psychological
Implications of the flying saucer phenomenon.
"In the light of the forceful radio commentary by Henry J.Taylor and
the article which appeared in the 'United States News and World Report,
'both of which declared or implied the saucers are aircraft of unusual
design developed in the United States, I was interested to learn the
reactions of Mr. Truman to the reports.
"I understand that the Navy and the Air Force have issued qualified
denials to the reports. Does the White House feel such reports are
"I wish to thank you in advance for your interest and help. You may be
assured that I will appreciate any information you may be able to give
Ross's reply of April 11th contains what turns out to be form-letter
phraseology from the Truman White House: "The president has expressed
no opinions concerning these reports other than that he has no information
of any kind about flying saucers."
And So It Goes . . .
Many of these UFO-oriented letters, of course, have something in common
with the hundreds of other letters sent to any given president: the
naive expectation that somehow the president himself not only will
read them but also will respond to them. That form of faith in the
paternalistic, omnipotent majesty of the Oval Office has carried over,
for example, from the Truman days to the Jimmy Carter era of UFO
awareness. Incidentally, the content of the Truman letters is echoed
by the scores of UFO-related letters received by the Carter
administration. Would Carter's staff have received far fewer such
letters had Truman chosen to read his UFO-related correspondence and
thus decided to transfer official UFO investigation from military
hands to civilian control -- in an aim reflective of his move to assure
civilian control of nuclear weapons?