By Ben Moffett
Published in the Socorro Mountain Mail and at Rense.com
Just before dawn on July 16, 1945, scientists detonated the world's first atomic bomb at Trinity Site, some 20 miles southeast of San Antonio, N.M. Three weeks later, on August 6 and 9, the United States brought World War II to a dramatic end by using the bomb to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On August 6, the world first learned that the Trinity event, which had frightened San Antonioans witless, was not "an ammunition magazine containing high explosives and pyrotechnics" as the military had reported. It was an atomic bomb, "death, the destroyer of worlds," in the words of project physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.
It was in this crucible of suspicion and disinterest bred by familiarity that a small contingent of the U.S. Army passed almost unnoticed through San Antonio in mid-to-late August, 1945 on a secret assignment, according to two local observers.
Little or nothing has been printed about the mission, shrouded in the "hush-hush" atmosphere of the time. But according to the observers, the military detail apparently came from White Sands Proving Grounds to the east where the bomb was exploded. It was a recovery operation destined for the mesquite and greasewood desert west of Old US-85, at what is now Milepost 139, the San Antonio exit of Interstate 25.
Over the course of several days, they said soldiers in Army fatigues loaded the shattered remains of a flying apparatus onto a huge flatbed truck and hauled it away.
That such an operation took place between about Aug. 20 and Aug. 25, 1945, there is no doubt, insist two former San Antonioans, Remigio Baca and Jose Padilla, eyewitnesses to the event.
Padilla, then age 9, and Baca, 7, secretly watched much of the soldiers' recovery work from a nearby ridge. Their keen interest stemmed from being the first to reach the crash site.
What they saw was a long, wide gash in the earth, with a manufactured object lying cockeyed and partially buried at the end of it, surrounding by a large field of debris. They believed then, and believe today, that the object was occupied by distinctly non-human life forms which were alive and moving about on their arrival minutes after the crash.
They reported their findings to Jose's father, Faustino Padilla, on whose ranch the craft had crashed. Shortly thereafter, Faustino received a military visitor asking for permission to remove it.
During their school years, Jose and Remegio, best friends, would sometimes whisper about the events of that August, which occurred before any of the other mysterious UFO incidents in New Mexico, but they didn't talk to others about it on the advice of their parents and a state policeman friend.
The significance of what they saw, however, grew in their eyes over time as tales of UFOs and flying saucers multiplied across the country, especially in a ban across central New Mexico.
Among the most prominent was Socorro police officer Lonnie Zamora's April 24, 1964 on-duty report of a "manned" UFO just south of Socorro, less than 10 miles north of the heretofore unnoticed 1945 Padilla Ranch crash.
Jose and Remigio were long gone from the area by the time UFOs and flying saucers became news, and although both kept up with Socorro County events, they lost contact and never discussed the emerging phenomenon with each other.
Reme moved to Tacoma, Wash., while still in high school and Jose to Rowland Heights, Calif. Then, two years ago, after more than four decades apart, they met by chance on the Internet while tracking their ancestry. It was then their interest in the most intriguing event of their childhood was rekindled.
During one of the conversations, Remegio and Jose decided to tell their story to veteran news reporter Ben Moffett, a classmate at San Antonio Grade School who they knew shared their understanding of the culture and ambience of San Antonio in the forties and fifties, and who was familiar with the terrain, place names, and people. This is their story as told to Moffett.
By Ben Moffett
SAN ANTONIO, N.M. -- The pungent but pleasing aroma of greasewood was in the air as Jose Padilla, age 9, and friend, Remigio Baca, 7, set out on horseback one August morning in 1945 to find a cow that had wandered off to calf.
The scent of the greasewood, more often called creosote bush today, caught their attention as they moved away from this tiny settlement on their horses, Bolé and Dusty. The creosote scent is evident only when it is moist, and its presence on the wind meant rain somewhere nearby.
So, as they worked the draws on the Padilla Ranch, they were mindful of flash flooding which might occur in Walnut Creek, or side arroyos, if there were a major thunderstorm upstream. Gully-washers are not uncommon in late summer in the northern stretches of the Chihuahuan Desert of central New Mexico, especially along the foothills of the Magdalena Mountains looming to the west.
Despite minor perils associated with being away from adults, it was a routine outing for Jose and Reme. It was not odd to see youngsters roam far afield doing chores during the war years. "I could ride before I could walk," said Jose in a recent interview. "We were expected to do our share of the work. Hunting down a cow for my dad wasn't a bad job, even in the August heat."
At length, they moved into terrain that seemed too rough for the horses hooves, and Jose decided to tether them, minus bridles, allowing them to graze. He had spotted a mesquite thicket, a likely place for a wayward cow to give birth, and they set off across a field of jagged rocks and cholla cactus to take a look. As they moved along, grumbling about the thorns, the building thunderheads decided to let go. They took refuge under a ledge above the floodplain, protected somewhat from the lightning strikes that suddenly peppered the area.
The storm quickly passed and as they again moved out, another brilliant light, accompanying by a crunching sound shook the ground around them. It was not at all like thunder. Another experiment at White Sands? No, it seemed too close. "We thought it came from the next canyon, adjacent to Walnut Creek, and as we moved in that direction, we hear a cow in a clump of mesquites," said Reme. Sure enough, it was the Padilla cow, licking a white face calf.
A quick check revealed the calf to be healthy and nursing, and the boys decided to reward themselves with a small lunch Jose had sacked, a tortilla each, washed down with a few swigs from a canteen, and an apple.
As they munched, Jose noticed smoke coming from a draw adjacent to Walnut Creek, a main tributary from the mountains to the Rio Grande.
Ignoring their task at hand, the two boys headed toward it, and what they saw as they topped a rise "stopped us dead in our tracks," Reme remembers. "There was a gouge in the earth as long as a football field, and a circular object at the end of it." It was "barely visible," he said, through a field of smoke. "It was the color of the old pot my mother was always trying to shine up, a dull metallic color."
They moved closer and found the heat from the wreckage and burning greasewood to be intense. "You could feel it through the soles of your shoes," said Reme. "It was still humid from the rain, stifling, and it was hard to get close."
They retreated briefly to talk things over, cool off, sip from the canteen and collect their nerve, worried there might be casualties in the wreckage.
Then they headed back toward the site. That's when things really got eerie. Waiting for the heat to diminish, they began examining the remnants at the periphery of a huge litter field. Reme picked up a piece of thin, shiny material that he says reminded him of "the tin foil in the old olive green Phillip Morris cigarette packs."
"It was folded up and lodged underneath a rock, apparently pinned there during the collision," said Reme. "When I freed it, it unfolded all by itself. I refolded it, and it spread itself out again." Reme put it in his pocket.
Finally they were able to work their way to within yards of the wreckage, fearing the worst and not quite ready for it. "I had my hand over my face, peeking through my fingers," Reme recalled. "Jose, being older, seemed to be able to handle it better."
As they approached they saw, thought they saw, yes, definitely DID see movement in the main part of the craft.
"Strange looking creatures were moving around inside," said Reme. "They looked under stress. They moved fast, as if they were able to will themselves from one position to another in an instant. They were shadowy and expressionless, but definitely living beings."
Reme wanted no part of whoever, whatever was inside. "Jose wasn't afraid of much, but I told him we should get out of there. I remember we felt concern for the creatures. They seemed like us-children, not dangerous. But we were scared and exhausted. Besides it was getting late."
The boys backtracked, ignoring the cow and calf. It was a little after dusk when they climbed on their horses, and dark when they reached the Padilla home.
Faustino Padilla asked about the cow, and got a quick report. "And we found something else," Jose said, and the story poured out, quickly and almost incoherently. "It's kind of hard to explain, but it was long and round, and there was a big gouge in the dirt and there were these hombrecitos (little guys)."
Their tale unfolded as Jose's father listened patiently. "They were running back and forth, looking desperate. They were like children. They didn't have hair," Jose said
"We'll check it out in a day or two," Faustino said, unalarmed and apparently not worried in the least about survivors or medical emergencies. "It must be something the military lost and we shouldn't disturb it. Leave your horse here, Reme, and Jose and I will drive you home, since it's so late."
Two days later at about noon, state policeman Eddie Apodaca, a family friend who had been summons by Faustino, arrived at the Padilla home. Jose and Reme directed Apodoca and Jose's dad toward the crash site in two vehicles, a pick-up and a state police car. When they could drive no further, they parked and hiked to the hillside where the boys had initially spotted the wreckage.
As they topped the ridge, they noted the cow and calf had moved on, probably headed for home pasture, then they walked the short distance to the overlook. For a second time, Jose and Reme are dumbfounded.
The wreckage was nowhere to be seen.
"What could have happened to it?" Reme asked.
"Somebody must have taken it," Jose responded defensively.
Apodoca and Faustino stared intently but unaccusingly at Jose and Reme, trying to understand. They headed down the canyon nonetheless, and suddenly, "as if by magic," in Reme's words, the object reappeared.
"From the top of the hill, it blended into the surroundings," Reme explained recently. "The sun was at a different angle, and the object had dirt and debris over it," which he speculated may have been put there by someone after the crash.
Apodoca and Faustino led the way to the craft, then climbed inside while Jose and Reme were ordered to stay a short distance away. "I can't see the hombrecitos," Reme offered.
"No," replies Jose. "But look at these marks on the ground, like when you drag a rake over it."
"The huge field of litter had been cleaned up," Reme recalled. "Who did it, and when, I have no idea. Was it the military? Using a helicopter? Or the occupants?"
The main body of the craft, however, remained in place with odd pieces dangling everywhere.
Now it was time for the adults to lecture Reme and Jose, Reme remembers. "Listen carefully. Don't tell anyone about this," Reme quoted Faustino as saying. "Reme, your dad just started working for the government. He doesn't need to know anything about it. It might cause him trouble."
Faustino also worked for the government at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and the ranch itself was on leased federal land. Faustino was a patriotic man and honest to a fault in his dealing with the federal government, according to Jose.
"The government calls them weather balloons," the state policeman chipped in. "I'm here to help Faustino work out the recovery with the government. They'll want this thing back."
"But this isn't like the weather balloons we've seen before," said Reme. "They were little, almost like a kite."
"You're right, Reme. Este es un monstruso, que no Eddie?" Faustino said.
"Yeah, it's big for sure," the state policeman acknowledged.
"And the hombrecitos?" Reme persisted.
"Maybe you just thought you saw them," said Faustino. "Or maybe somebody took them, or they just took off."
Then they headed home. The cow and calf also grazed their way back in a day or two.
Next week: The story continues with the military's removal of the wreckage, while Jose and Reme, equipped with binoculars, spy on their every move, including the soldiers slipping off to the Owl Bar for a little diversion.
Jose and Reme also look back at the incident from the perspective of time. Was the object that required a flatbed truck and an "L" extension a weather balloon, or an alien craft from space or from another dimension?
The two men, now in their mid to late 60s, still have a piece of the craft and know where other parts were buried by the military.
Reme also speculates about how the 1945 incident fits in with the many sightings that were later reported in a ban across central New Mexico and elsewhere, giving rise to a UFO and "flying saucer" phenomenon that is still debated today.
New Mexico 1945 UFO Crash, Part II
Ben Moffett, Socorro Mountain Mail, published 11-6-03
Note: This Story May Not Be Reproduced In Part Or Whole In Any Media Without Written Permission of Author - editor
In mid August, 1945, before the term "flying saucer" was coined, Remigio Baca, age 7, and Jose Padilla, 9, were first on the scene of the crash of a strange object on the Padilla Ranch west of San Antonio, a tiny village on the Rio Grande in central New Mexico.
Both Remigio, or "Reme" as his friends called him, and Jose, believe they saw "shadowy, childlike creatures" in the demolished, oblong, circular craft when they arrived at the scene, well before anyone else.
The U.S. Army told the public nothing about it, and told the Padilla family it was a "weather balloon," according to Reme and Jose, now in their mid 60s. And the two men insist the Army went to great lengths to keep the operation under wraps, even concocting a cover story to mask their mop-up mission on the ranch.
The recovery operation actually started two days after Reme, Jose, Jose's father, Faustino, and state policeman Eddie Apodaca, a family friend, visited the site on August 18, 1945. It was then that a Latino sergeant named Avila arrived at the Padilla home in San Antonito, a tiny southern extension of San Antonio.
After some small talk, Sgt. Avila got down to business. According to Reme's and Jose's recollection, and what they learned subsequently from Faustino, the conversation went something like this:
"As you may know, there's a weather balloon down on your property," Avila said. "We need to install a metal gate and grade a road to the site to recover it. We'll have to tear down a part of the fence adjoining the cattle guard."
"Why can't you just go through the gate like everybody else?" asked Faustino.
"Well, the problem is that your cattle guard is about 10 feet wide, and our tractor trailer can't begin to get through there," said the sergeant. "We'll compensate you, of course."
The sergeant also asked for a key to the gate until the military could install its own. He also wanted help with security. "Can you make sure nobody goes to the site unless they are authorized. And don't tell anyone why we're here."
"What should I tell them?" Faustino asked.
"You can tell them the equipment is here because the government needs to work a manganese mine west of here," the sergeant said.
"That was to justify the presence of road-building equipment," said Reme in a recent interview. "It wasn't until decades later, on the Internet, that I learned the Army told a lot of fibs along about that time. I found another manganese mine story was used to cover a UFO incident on the west side of the Magdalenas near Datil in 1947, about the time of the Roswell UFO incident."
"I know for sure that the cover story was at least the second piece of misinformation they gave out in a month," noted Reme, a former Marine, chuckling and referencing the acknowledged false press release used to cover the Trinity atom bomb explosion as the first.
It wasn't long after the sergeant's departure that the Army was on the scene with road building equipment. Long before the road was graded, however, soldiers were at the site, carrying scraps of the mangled airship to smaller vehicles that were able to immediately get close to the scene.
Although they were warned by their father to stay away from the area, Jose, sometimes with Reme, and sharing a pair of binoculars, watched from hiding as the military graded a road and soldiers prepared for the flatbed's arrival. Jose actually made off with a piece, which is still in their possession.
"The work detail wasn't too efficient," said Reme, who noted from his experience in the Marines that military parts had numbers and were carefully catalogued. "The soldiers threw some of the pieces down a crevice, so they wouldn't have to carry them," he said. "Then they would kick dirt and rocks and brush over them to cover them up."
According to Jose, four soldiers were stationed at the wreckage at all times, with shift changes every 12 hours. "One stayed at a tent as a guard and listened to the radio. I could hear the music. They'd work for an hour and then lock the gate, climb in their pick-ups and go to the Owl Café, where they'd look for girls. I know because one of my (female) cousins who was there told me."
Once the flatbed was in place, the soldiers used wenches to hoist the intact portion of the wreckage in place. "They had to build an L-shaped frame and tilt it to get it to fit into the tractor-trailer, because it bulged out over one side," Jose said. "They finally cut a hole in the fence at the gate that was 26 feet long to get it out."
Off it went, shrouded under tarps, through San Antonio and presumably to Stallion Site on what is today White Sands Missile Range, where, according to Reme, it still may be today.
Was this clandestine operation undertaken to recover a weather balloon? Or, as Jose and Reme contend, was it something far more mysterious?
"I think the term 'weather balloon' was a euphemism, a catch-all for anything and everything that the government couldn't explain, said, Reme.
Reme and Jose knew about typical military weather balloons. "My father and I found about seven of them before and after the 1945 crash," Jose remembers. "We always gathered them up and gave them back to the military. They were nothing but silky material, aluminum and wood, nothing like what we found in that arroyo in 1945."
"Those weather balloons were not much more than big box kites," said Reme. "They sure couldn't gouge a hole in the ground. Remember, in 1945, despite the bomb, we weren't all that sophisticated. The Trinity Site bomb, Fat Man, was transported on a railroad car to the site. Radar was primitive or non-existent in some places. Maybe the military knew what they had, maybe they didn't, maybe they couldn't say."
Reme and Jose are convinced, and they say Faustino soon came to join in their belief, that the object on the ranch was no mere weather balloon, but an object of mystery. Faustino, however, had no interest in challenging the status quo, nor did state policeman Apodaca, whatever his beliefs were.
And why would a mere sergeant be sent to negotiate with Faustino Padilla on a mission that involved something more than a routine weather balloon flight. "He wore sergeant stripes," Reme said. "That doesn't necessarily mean he was a sergeant. And he was Latino. He was sent to San Antonio because he could communicate with the locals."
Finally, why would the military allow such cavalier treatment of the wreckage, if it were a foreign or alien craft with scientific value?
"I don't know if they knew what they had," Reme said. "It was a fairly crude craft with no parts numbers on it, and the piece we have, we were told is not remarkably machined even for 1945. But there's nothing that says aliens have to travel in remarkable spaceships.
"Given what we know about distances in the universe, space travel seems far-fetched, I'll grant you. Perhaps they got here by some method we can't fathom and they manufactured a crude object here to get around in this atmosphere. We hear about other dimensions, and parallel universes.
"I don't know much about those things. But I do know what I saw, which was some unlikely looking creatures at the crash site. I know that later other people in the area reported similar things. And I know the government was interested in keeping it quiet."
Reme has studied the UFO phenomenon in his spare time over the years, especially as it pertained to New Mexico. "The military opened the door at Roswell, and then they closed it," he said, referring to a July, 1947 report by the Roswell Air Force Base information office about the crash and recovery of a "flying disc" that they reported had been bouncing around the sky. Then the base retreated by reporting it was merely a "radar tracking balloon" that had been recovered.
Details of the Roswell event can be found in a 19-page Freedom of Information Act request by the late New Mexico Congressman Steve Schiff and released by the General Accounting Office July 28, 1995. It can be found on the Internet at http://www.conspire.com/ds/gao2.html).
The Roswell crash, which along with the sighting of a UFO south of Socorro by city policeman Lonnie Zamora in 1964, are the two most famous of a string of UFO reports over central New Mexico and in all of UFO lore.
From 1946 through 1949, 25 UFO sightings that "may have contained extra-terrestrial life" were reported worldwide by the Center for the Study of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Of those, seven came from New Mexico, including one near Magdalena (1946), Socorro (1947), Roswell (actually near Corona), July 4, 1947, Plains of San Agustin (Catron County), July 5, 1947, Aztec, 1948, White Sands, 1949 and Roswell again, 1949. Another was in the pattern, too, on the Hopi Reservation of Arizona in 1947.
"There was a pattern of sightings and incidents in a ban across New Mexico. Socorro and San Antonio are right at the center," notes Reme. "Our 1945 sighting just adds to that base of information. It's intriguing to say the least. If you were an eyewitness it becomes even more intriguing."
Reme and Jose are excited enough to tell their story after more than 55 years, even knowing the problems that plagued Lonnie Zamora after his spotting a UFO near Socorro, less than 10 miles away, in 1964.
Jose and Reme would like to see an excavation of the crevice where a few odds and ends from their "alien craft" were tossed. The crevice was recently covered up by a bulldozer doing flood control work.
And they'd like to have the part they have from the wreckage examined more closely. They are not eager to surrender it to anyone, however. "I've heard from others that if you give it up to the government, you stand a good chance of not getting it back," Reme said.
A second piece, which Reme likened to the "tin foil in a cigarette pack," is gone. "I used it to stop a leak in a brass pipe under a windmill at our house in San Antonio in the early 50s," he said. "I used it to fill the stripped threads on two pieces of pipe."
Reme said he regrets using it now, but it was handy. "I kept in for years in an old Prince Albert (tobacco) can in the pump house, and it was the nearest thing available." Reme said the foil stopped the leak in the pipe for years. The windmill is now gone and the property is no longer owned by the family.
Finally, Jose and Reme were asked why they decided to tell the tale today, after nearly 60 years.
"It's something you can never get out of your head," said Reme. "When we saw it, we had never heard the term UFO, and 'flying saucers' didn't become a part of the language until June of 1947 when a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported nine objects in a formation in the area of Mount Rainier.
"We didn't invent this phenomenon," said Reme. "We experienced it. Others have apparently had similar experiences. I believe Jose and I have an obligation to add our information to the mix."
BIOSRemigio Baca of Gig, Harbor, Wash., was born in San Antonio in October,1938, to Evarista Serna and Alejandro Baca. He attended San Antonio Grade School and Socorro High until he transferred to Stadium High in Tacoma, Wash., in his freshman year.
Reme served in the Marines for six years during the Vietnam War, worked as a tax compliance officer for the Washington Department of Revenue, and was involved in Washington politics. A meeting with Vernon Jordan, national chairman of the Urban League, encouraged him to get into politics, which he did with enthusiasm.
Reme was instrumental in the election of the famous scientist and Nixon administration politician Dixy Ray Lee to the governorship of Washington as a Democrat, and served on Ray's executive staff.
In that role, he helped get qualified Latinos in administrative positions in government. When Lee was defeated, Reme became an insurance agent in Tacoma, moved to California for awhile as an independent insurance broker in Oxnard, Santa Paula and Santa Barbara, and retired in Gig Harbor, a suburb of Tacoma.
He has been married for years to Virginia Tonan, a classical pianist and teacher.
He has been back to San Antonio many times, and has relatives in Socorro County.
Jose Padilla was born in San Antonito in November, 1936, to Faustino and Maria Padilla, attended first San Antonito Grade School and then San Antonio Grade School when San Antonito's school burned down. He also attended the Luis Lopez Grade School for a time. He made first communion with Reme Baca at the San Antonio Church.
While at Socorro High he left to join the National Guard at age 13, when very young children were allowed to sign up because of the World War II death toll in the New Mexico Guard. After leaving San Antonio, Jose continued guard duty in Van Nuyes Calif., Air National Guard, and when the unit was activated, spent time in Korea.
He married his wife, Olga, and served with the California Highway Patrol for 32 years as a safety inspector. The Padillas have three boys, including a son, Sam, who lives in Contreras, near La Joya, and he has numerous relatives in Socorro and vicinity.
(Editor's note: Thanks to the Mountain Mail for allowing us to run this piece by Ben Moffett. The newspaper, which covers Socorro and Catron County in rural New Mexico, is rapidly gaining a reputation as a "good news" newspaper with strong editorial pages which come from both the left and the right, innovative pieces on such locally controversial subjects as rooster fighting, gay rights, and, yes, UFOs, and such locally important ones as birding, farming and ranching. -- www.rense.com.