Chester Martin Remembers UFOs

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Yes, I've seen at least three or four UFO's, but they were totally un-dramatic and low-key.

I was alive and in my early teens when, in 1947, the big (and now famed) “Roswell incident” occurred in New Mexico. Some kind of alien spacecraft had crashed there, and bodies had been removed; the U.S. Air Force knew all about it and refused to release details. Already an amateur astronomer and involved at our local observatory, I remember no great excitement that it caused among the educated Barnard Astronomical Society people.

Certainly, Dr. Karel Hujer, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Chattanooga, paid little or no attention to it. Modern “science fiction” did not yet exist at that time in the same way it does today, for it was the purported "Roswell Incident" which initiated an entire new genre of literature, film, etc. – and that Roswell incident is still being written about today.

A neighbor, Mrs. Weigel, grandmother of my friend, Billy Jackson, was all excited about how "flying saucers" had passed over the city of Chattanooga the day before, but she was the only person I knew who was really excited about it. Again, I do not remember ONE ripple of recognition among the members of the Barnard Astronomical Society. Dr. Karel Hujer did not approve of the existing SciFi of the day (mainly Jules Verne) and so did not acknowledge flying saucers as having anything to do with the science of astronomy. As much as I was given to watching the sky, I never saw a single strange thing related to that particular “Roswell” and “flying saucer” incident of 1947.

Still, stories persisted about flying saucers;  they were always appearing over distant cities, and occasional newspaper blurbs were unconvincing as to whether the sightings were true, or the work of kooks. At any rate, I never got to see one!


* * *


However, years later, while stationed at Sewart AFB, outside of Smyrna, Tn.,, I got off work in the Control Tower one night at 11:00. This was before I got my first car, so it must have been about 1957 or 58. My squadron's barracks were a considerable distance from the tower - perhaps the better part of a mile - in the southeast corner of the base. I was tired and sleepy, and only wanted to get back to the barracks and collapse into my bunk. There were two ways I could walk: either by some sparsely lighted streets (the long way), or the pitch-black short way which went past the long-closed Base Commissary. I opted for the short-cut. It was a moonless, calm night, and very difficult to make out the landmarks necessary for turning corners. Even the white Commissary building was very hard to make out on my left. I was beginning to regret my choice of routes home, and was looking skyward on my right to see if I could navigate by some familiar stars as I could not even see the side of the road! While looking up, I noticed a pale gray colorless object moving noiselessly from north to south, in approximate alignment with one of the runways. There was no lateral motion - only a persistent trek towards the south. It could not have been an aircraft, as it was perfectly silent, and I thought, also, that it might have been a large bird whose underbelly was dimly reflecting the runway lighting. When this object had cleared the end of the runway by a good distance it was still glowing! The outskirts of Smyrna were pitch black also, with no electric lighting to reflect off either plane or bird! A person of today cannot understand the meaning of "darkness", the way it was back then – and I still have no idea what I saw.

I soon found the street I needed to access my barracks, and soon was sawing logs.

To this day, though, I have contemplated what I saw that night.


* * *


Involved as I had been at our local observatory, I was (very) intermittently a member of Llewellyn Evans' "Moonwatch" team. "Operation Moonwatch" was a project set up by the Smithsonian in the early days of the NASA Space Program, to track all artificial satellites, whether American or Russian. I was well-schooled in looking upward - a habit learned very early in life and which remains with me even into my old age).  And through sensitivity to such phenomena as "night vision" and other optical peculiarities, I developed a keen sense for detecting motion in the skies. There is rarely a day or night passes that I do not look skyward and observe how the clouds are constantly in motion, or how the "fixed" stars remain fixed. In old B&W movies (How Green was my Valley, for example), I have actually squirmed in my seat when the painted clouds of the background fail to move like real clouds. So consequently I feel "qualified" to make accurate judgments of my own in detecting celestial motion, or lack of it. Air Traffic Controllers MUST be alert to such matters.

One night in the mid 1970's I was walking my dog. As we got back home and were about to climb the steps to go back in the house I cast an upward glance toward the stars. Emerging from high behind a gable of the house I detected a moving "star". (By that I mean it was about the size of many bright stars). I deduced that it was a man-made satellite. The scenario was compelling and drew me in, and I decided to watch it. Interesting sight, but absolutely un-dramatic. I continued to watch, however, and all of a sudden the star/satellite STOPPED, perhaps it even did some erratic zig-zagging before it stopped again. This was astounding; this doesn’t happen! Momentarily, a much smaller, but clearly visible "star" came away from, or out of, the larger point of light. It gyrated about and seemingly made some bizarre fast-turn maneuvers before it reunited again with the larger object. To conclude, the larger point of light was seen to retrace its path, moving back toward the south, following its exact original trajectory until it changed from its original white star-color into a darker tawny color - just like the dirty-red coloring seen when the moon is in eclipse. The whole thing simply vanished then, and although I waited to see if the same thing would happen again, it did not. My dog was pulling at his leash to go back inside, so we went.

Seriously curious about all this, I watched on subsequent nights, and saw the same thing take place at least once more. A brief story in the Chattanooga News-Free Press (or was it the Times?) soon described how a lady in East Ridge had gone to her kitchen window, in the wee hours - much later than my experience - and had seen the same approximate "show". I called her up the next day and we compared notes, but, of course it did no good as neither of us could prove anything. On "Talk Radio", many years later, I have heard at least one UFO authority claim that this type of sighting was very common. But what it was is still a mystery. 

My guess is that the Military is/was developing new defense systems, and that everything about it was man-made. The Martians and Little Green Men had nothing to do with it :) Sad? Yes!

* * *

The following account actually should be first in the sequence, but because it is so lame a story I thought I'd put it near the end -

One night before 1950, my old friend Walter Nash and I decided to take a walk down U.S. 41 toward Ringgold, Ga. Walter was a teacher at Ringgold High School and we both knew some people along the way. This was long before the Interstate highway system had been dreamed up, and U.S.41 was the equivalent of today's I-75. There was only a very small amount of traffic at night, and so there were long stretches of totally dark road between cars. The stars were very busy that night! The sky was serenely clear and beautiful, and I kept looking up, drinking in the beauty of it all. Walter's vision was impaired in one eye, due to a war wound, and so he could not appreciate all that I was seeing. He was looking straight ahead more than skyward, and so did not witness what I saw: Almost straight overhead a small point of light suddenly appeared and within a few seconds increased in brilliance before disappearing. By the time I could get Walter to look up it had gone. So I have no witness as to what I saw. My only speculation is that it could have been a meteor coming directly toward us – or a nova of very limited duration, but have never heard of such actually happening. Again, I have pondered this over many times in my life, even wondering if it could have been a dream.   I think not.


* * *


So far, I have only mentioned UFO's. Now, let me tell you about a truly fabulous meteor shower I witnessed in the summer of 1948. It was publicized in the newspapers well in advance, and the observatory even opened to accommodate a curious public. The earth was to "pass through the tail of a comet" on that night, and Walter Nash had organized the event into a “Star Party”. The night turned out to be gloriously clear, and the public came out in droves. Meteors exploded (soundlessly, of course) almost like fireworks out of the sky - a most enthralling experience - and one we may never see again. When the observatory closed that night, I went home, got my new SkyScope (telescope) and went up the hill west of our house (on South Terrace) and continued my vigil until the wee sma' hours. The Perseids and other famous meteor showers are very pale and uninteresting by comparison to this one great show of Nature. Matter of fact: except for this single dramatic experience, ALL the other meteor showers I have tried to observe have been disappointments. (As any amateur astronomer will know, the telescope was useless, and the un-aided eye was the best way to view any meteor shower; my ‘scope was just a shiny new toy.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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