By FREDERIC O. SARGENT AS TOLD TO ABBY WEINGARTENFrederic Sargent was studying economics at Colby College in Maine when the draft for World War II beckoned. In 1942, the 22-year-old joined the 415th Night Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Forces and studied at a series of radio schools.
The Herald Tribune
The Herald Tribune
For 31/2 years, he was stationed throughout North Africa, Sicily, Corsica, Germany and England. As a corporal, he never flew, but his principal job was to take care of the lights on the landing strips for night fighters.
He peeled potatoes in the kitchen police and learned the mechanics of aircraft engines. In 1946, as the historian for the group, he wrote an unpublished account of his unit's interaction with foo fighters, titled "Foo Fighters and the 415th."
Sargent went on to teach economics at various U.S. universities before retiring to Sarasota with Shirley, his wife of 60 years. (Below are some of Sargent's writings and ruminations on the topic of foo fighters.)
The British developed radar and night fighting, so when the U.S. went into World War II, we had to learn everything from the British. My squadron was the first one to do that.
Our pilots and crew chiefs would go to England and Scotland to learn from the British. I was in the ground echelon, so I met up with them in North Africa.
Pilots in the 415th encountered and reported 'foo fighters' (or luminous, unidentified objects) during the night over the German-occupied Rhine River valley. The sightings were recorded between November 1944 and April 1945, when the 415th was operating from landing strips in Dijon and Ochey, France.
The sightings posed a baffling question to air war buffs, scientists, the media and the public. What were they? The pilots could find no explanation that fit all of the sightings. The Air Force was in a position to answer the question, as they had sequestered tons of German air war records. But their focus was on developing the next generation of fighters and bombers, not in information dissemination.
The proliferation of sightings, or imagined sightings, of UFOs and flying saucers by people everywhere complicated the search for an answer. When the Allies captured the area east of the Rhine River, the foo fighter sightings ceased.
A few investigative air science researchers studied records and archives in Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom. Recent investigators point out a possible line of progressive development of radar invisibility from the foo fighter to the stealth fighter and bomber.
Eventually, as the U.S. becomes militarily secure, the Air Force will probably declassify its records of German World War II research."
Some excerpts from the unit's log:
Nov. 27, 1944: Lt. Edward A. Schleuter returned from a mission and reported that he saw a red light flying through the air. It came in about 2,000 feet off starboard and then disappeared in a long red streak.
Dec. 15, 1944: A pilot's mission report stated: 'Saw a brilliant red light at 2,000 feet going east at 200 miles per hour in the vicinity of Erstein. Due to AI failure, could not pick up contact but followed it by sight until it went out. Could not get close enough to identify object before it went out."