Once a detective ...
|By Billy Cox|
More than 35 years passed before Bill Schroeder and his cousin, Dennis Force, talked openly with each other about a perception-altering incident that went down while both were on military duty in Florida. Prior to that, whenever the two were visiting and a UFO show appeared on TV, “We’d say to each other, ‘Do you remember the night ...?’” recalls Schroeder from his Tampa-area home in Safety Harbor. “That’s all we had to say. It’s not something you forget.”
Mindful of potential national security obligations, neither discussed what happened one evening during the last few days of March, maybe early April, 1967. Schroeder was manning a radar scope in Key West, as a member of the Army Air Defense Command’s 6/65th Hawk missile battalion. Force was with the USAF’s 644th Radar Squadron in Homestead. The two were as close as siblings; when four targets appeared out of nowhere and lit their respective screens, they chatted it up over their headsets, thinking they had both acquired the same bogeys. It wasn’t until years later when they realized they’d been monitoring completely separate events. Florida MUFON posted Schroeder’s recollections recently on YouTube.
In a nutshell, Schroeder was watching strong returns on four bogeys moving from the Florida Keys across the Everglades, west from the Atlantic to the Gulf, then back again, in box formation. Simultaneously, Force’s radar was painting four box-formation UFOs heading south from around Fort Lauderdale to North Miami, veering east over the Atlantic, before heading back again. “Something terrible must have happened, in either the Atlantic or the Gulf,” recalls the retired cop and private eye. “It’s exactly like what we’re doing in the South China Sea now. They were flying in grid patterns, like they were looking for something. It was definitely systematic.”
Schroeder’s scope also picked up apparent jet interceptors dispatched from Boca Chica. The targets vanished, only to blink on again after the warplanes headed away. The 3.5-hour game of cat-and-mouse ended in a flourish, as one of the blips broke formation and headed straight for Schroeder’s battery control center in Key West. He says the target hosed his post with “electronic countermeasures” and the scope went black. A missile-crew sergeant reported the thing went directly overhead, streaking past like a meteor but “flying level.”
At the morning-after debriefing, Schroeder was told not to worry about it, there was “a NORAD exercise” going on. The scene was different in Homestead. Force told his cousin, much later, that the radar drama had been recorded, and that a major and several plainclothes personnel confiscated the film cannisters, marking them “Top Secret.” Within weeks, Force had been reassigned to Armed Forces Radio at a Strategic Air Command base in Newfoundland. Schroeder was redeployed to the Korean DMZ with an MP canine unit. “We both had specialized training,” Schroeder says. “It seemed like a real waste of money to me.”
Decades later, he and Force began retracing their steps to that strange night. The journey led them to old newspaper clippings of contemporaneous UFO sightings by civilians in south Florida, which appear to confirm a major outbreak of anomalous activity that spring. Schroeder couldn’t let it go. “I kept wondering why whey would expose themselves to our radar, especially if they have stealth capabilities,” he says. “Then I remembered how the old Russian Bear bombers would do the same thing, testing our technology to see how good it was.”
Schroeder would join MUFON and contact the NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) web site to comb through thousands of old government records. He made queries to the three radar veterans clubs to which he belonged. By 2012, he had gathered enough material for a Kindle book, Incident over Miami: A True UFO Encounter. Even so, Schroeder felt he’d barely scratched the surface, especially after chatting it up last year with a former employee of Raytheon, which manufactured the Hawk missile systems. The Illuminator targeting radar component could acquire audible subtones capable of making systems distinctions, e.g., turbine engines, jet engines, etc. “Four seconds after I locked on,” recalls Schroeder of the moment before the UFO shut his board down, “I heard a crisp clear Doppler signal but no subtone at all and I couldn’t figure it out. The guy said, well, that’s simple — the vehicle you were monitoring had no moveable parts. I thought, ‘My god, that’s it.’”
Now MUFON’s state section director for Tampa Bay, Schroeder continues to scan the dusty files for radar-pattern evidence. He also has a web site soliciting confidential military testimony. More on that next time.
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