Bel Air man writes of UFOs in wartimeThe peculiar red orb hung motionless in the summer sky near Frederick.
By By Cassandra A. Fortin
By By Cassandra A. Fortin
A boy at the time, Keith Chester vividly recalls that day in 1966. It was about 6:30 p.m. and Chester was on his way to a friend's house. As he walked, he noticed a shiny red ball in the sky near the Catoctin Mountains.
"The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up," Chester said. "I was so scared that I ran into my neighbor's house. I still think it was a UFO." To this day, the 50-year-old Bel Air resident has not been able find an explanation for the object, but incident sparked an interest in unidentified flying objects.
In recent years, Chester's interest has grown into a passion that led him to write Strange Company: Military Encounters with UFOs in WWII. The 320-page book contains descriptions of UFO sightings by American and British service members culled from research that included documents at the National Archives.
The road to writing the book began with that boyhood sighting of the red object. Chester devoured books about UFOs and became interested in space. He wanted to be an astronaut until he realized he didn't have the necessary aptitude for math, so his interest shifted to World War II history. From 1978 to 1998, Chester portrayed an infantry soldier as a member of the Military Historical Reenactment Society, taking part in events around the region.
Over time, Chester's interest in UFOs waned. But it was reignited in 1989 when he met Leonard Stringfield, who was director of Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects, a research group during the 1950s, that produced books about UFOs.
Stringfield was a sergeant in the 5th Air Force during World War II and said he had his own UFO sighting.
Chester said Stringfield told him about how he was among the first people to fly into mainland Japan after the bombing of Nagasaki. Stringfield said that he was on a plane flying between Ie Shima and Iwo Jima, when he looked out the window and saw three luminous, disk-shaped objects flying in formation.
"He told me that the objects had no outline, no exhaust, and no wings," Chester said, who works as a freelance artist.
Stringfield heard a commotion in the cockpit - the engine was malfunctioning. But when the objects disappeared, the plane was able to land safely, Chester recalls Stringfield saying.
"To hear his story was mesmerizing," he said.
Chester wanted to learn more about UFO sightings during WWII. In 1999, he began visiting the National Archives once a week to study military records for information about UFO sightings during the war.
Throughout almost four years of research, Chester found documents detailing sightings described as objects, lights, flares, strange lights or rockets.
"The sightings that were documented were considered phenomena," he said. "The military thought that they knew what they were observing, but the objects didn't match anything that was known by military intelligence."
The sightings he found include a silver, cigar-shaped object that looked like an airship. He also found a preponderance of information about unexplained objects reported by members of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, a former Army Air Forces fighter squadron that fought during World War II.
"Some of the soldiers thought the objects they saw were beyond the realm of conventional technology," Chester said. "But there is something extraordinary happening out there ... and there is a phenomenon that exists, and I believe that it's extraterrestrial."
At a reunion of the night fighters, Chester met Harold Augspurger, a commander of the squadron, who recounted a sighting that Chester details in his book. While flying near the border of France and Germany, Augspurger said he saw a light in the sky that he could not pick up on the radar.
"I believe that what I saw was something from some other space," Augspurger, 88, said in a telephone interview from his home in Dayton, Ohio. "I think it's real important to document it because it's a piece of history."
By 2002, Chester concluded he had enough information to write a book. He was struck by how much documentation existed and figured most people weren't aware of it. He said he has come across so much material that he has begun work on a second book.
"The phenomenon was far larger than ever expected," he said. "I found that the military applied known terminology and didn't come up with answers. They would call something a flare, but it didn't act like a flare."
Along the way, Chester has encountered plenty of skepticism, even from friends. But he said his goal is not to persuade people one way or the other.
"It's up to the people who read my book to decide what the objects truly were," he said.