Ben Moffett, The Mountain Mail, Socorro NM, Nov. 2, 2003
New Mexico UFO Crash Encounter In 1945
By Ben Moffett, ©. 2003 The Mountain Mail - Socorro,
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
Little or nothing has been printed
about the mission, shrouded in the "hush-hush"
atmosphere of the time. But 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.
course of several days, 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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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."
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
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
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?"
"Somebody must have taken it," Jose
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
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
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."
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.
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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
"Why can't you just go through the gate
like everybody else?" asked Faustino.
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
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."
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.
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."
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.
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 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
"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."
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
Remigio 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
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.
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.
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