By MANNIX PORTERFIELDBECKLEY -- Sci-fi buffs flocked to a fantasy film in 1984 bearing a title prediction that 2010 would be the year earthlings make contact with aliens.
Actually, contact has come, and it was less than friendly, says one UFO researcher.
Three decades earlier, in fact, back in 1952, just five years after the famed Roswell, New Mexico incident, the American military engaged a convoy of alien aircraft with orders to destroy them in a pitched air battle right off the Atlantic Coast, says Frank Feschino, author of "The Flatwoods Monster,'' a phenomenon that rocked a tiny West Virginia town that year.
An illustrator and writer, Feschino has produced a follow-up book, this one titled "Shoot Them Down,'' an effort produced after years of painstaking research of the U.S. Air Force's once-classified files on unidentified flying saucers and digesting countless magazine articles on the matter.
His years of exhaustive study have convinced Feschino that American jet fighters did indeed make contact -- at the point of their guns.
"Shoot Them Down'' draws its name from orders Feschino says President Truman gave military commanders while an American public was growing increasingly jittery over coast-to-coast UFO sightings.
Two years earlier, Truman had remarked at a news conference, "I can assure you that flying saucers, given that they exist, are not constructed by any power on earth.''
"There are tons of documents right there, intelligence reports, talking about pilots chasing these things, going after them,'' Feschino said, citing the once-hidden reports on the Air Force's so-called Project Blue Book.
"That's when it hit the fan, and the government stepped up. That is when they had to simmer the whole country down. The whole country was in an uproar. Everybody was panicking. The job of the government is to keep things under control, and they couldn't let the country panic.''
UFOs were buzzing the entire country that year, "and a good chunk of them were over military installations, and power plants, like Oak Ridge,'' the author says.
Feschino pulls his theory largely from the writings of Air Force Capt. Edward Ruppelt, a decorated World War II veteran, recalled to duty when hostilities erupted in Korea.
Roswell might stand out as the mother of all UFO stories, but 1952 was the most prolific year by far for aircraft sightings -- by one account, some 30,000 alone in the United States, many of them reported in local newspapers around the country.
Craft ranged from discs to round balls to elongated, cigar-shaped ships, the Port Orange, Fla., resident said.
"Capt. Ruppelt was dropping clues throughout his book,'' Feschino said. "And that's the premise of my book. During that time of 1952 we had the highest amount of sightings.''
In a book he wrote, Ruppelt said "other assorted historians have pointed out that normally the UFOs are peaceful,'' but he alluded to a chase in which one of two pilots engaging unidentified aircraft perished.
"They just weren't ready to be observed closely,'' he wrote.
"If the Air Force hadn't slapped down the security lid, these writers might not have reached this conclusion (about peaceful aliens). There have been other and more lurid duels of death. That's what everybody missed.''
Feschino flatly says the Air Force took on alien aircraft just off the coast with orders to destroy them in a move to pacify a public growing ever restless over bizarre sightings. In the battle, apparently one craft hobbled back inland, resting on a knoll in a West Virginia community known as Flatwoods. And it was there on Sept. 12 a group of boys, accompanied by some adults, scampered up the hillside and saw a metallic, 12-foot object emitting a sulfuric odor. Locals dubbed it "the Flatwoods Monster.''
"I have no idea who they were,'' Feschino said.
Based on his interviews with some 200 residents of Flatwoods, however, the author believes the aliens remain interested in rural West Virginia.
"There are people in West Virginia who have been seeing UFOs for the past 50 years, and there are key locations where they are being seen -- Wheeling, Huntington, and quite a few south of Charleston, around Cabin Creek, even down in the Beckley area,'' he said.
Feschino is a headliner for a Sept. 7-8 UFO summit in Charleston, organized by promoter Larry Bailey. Joining him will be Freddie May, a witness to the Flatwoods incident, and nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman, considered the leading UFO researcher in the world. Friedman has appeared on numerous cable TV shows with his belief that extraterrestrials are frequent flyers to planet Earth.
At the two-day gathering, Feschino plans to sell his new book, featuring a special, limited edition cover for West Virginia consumers.