Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oldies Still the Best: Al Chop's 1953 Classic

Al Chop to Henry Holt 1-26-1953- click on image(s) to enlarge -

By Robert Barrow

     Why run 1953's letter from Al Chop to Maj. Donald Keyhoe's publisher again (and a better copy), having featured it two or three times before? First, because I cherish this particular triumph of correspondence from the days when letters were letters, destined to survive on paper indefinitely. How long would this document have lasted as an e-mail? As a jpg image? If converted from rich text into lackluster plain text, minus the official look, what might have been its fate? And no official seal? Please! Like a day without sunshine, to quote a TV commercial.

I've even thought of starting another blog with one eternal entry displaying this letter and nothing more, not ever. In fact, were it in my power, I think I'd instruct every TV station in the country that still runs the National Anthem before signing off for the night to show Al Chop's letter prominently prior to a hitting the goodnight switch. I don't know, maybe a sober viewing should be a requirement for every high school American history class in the U.S. As readers of my blog regarding the 1956 movie, "UFO" know (see link), I've posted several personal letters from the late Mr. Chop over there, but this timeworn document trumps every piece of mail in my files just for the last paragraph's stand-alone shock effect from a man of integrity who was just trying to do his job.

Albert M. Chop, chief of the Pentagon's Air Force press desk, did far more than type out a letter to Henry Holt & Co., a major U.S. publisher -- he put a time line on history itself. Barely six months before churning out this testimonial to Keyhoe's UFO work, Chop had endured a very busy ringside seat and public relations tightrope amidst two bouts of apparent UFO activity high over the nation's Capitol, occurring within just a week of one another in 1952. In addition to the nightmarish days and nights which followed him to and from the Air Force press desk, Chop was already so impressed by a wealth of good military and airline UFO encounters that he slowly transformed from UFO skeptic to ardent proponent. Keep in mind, Al was an ex-Marine with a dual reputation as a responsible journalist, unlikely to radically alter his views without just cause.

So -- Mr. Chop answered a letter from Henry Holt & Co., responding in a remarkably freestyle manner regarding the possible origin of UFOs. Hard to believe, but up to that time a fellow working for the government could openly speculate a bit on things like this. Yes, he took a little -- a little -- flack from superiors over this because Al never suspected (though he should have) that the publicity folks at Henry Holt would take rabid advantage of a delicious opportunity to post the letter on the back of Keyhoe's new book jacket for the whole country to see and purchase (for some reason, as we've mentioned on a previous occasion, the British version did not include Chop's letter on the jacket). Flying Saucers From Outer Space was Keyhoe's title for this 1953 release, and now it seemed to project a profitable aura of official sanctioning about it, even if it didn't. Good. So what?

But, as I said, Chop accomplished not simply a letter, but an historic time line, an indelible stamp, on January 26, 1953, for this was the year when the "Robertson Panel" convened. 1953 was also the year that aeronautical engineer Capt. Ed Ruppelt departed Project Blue Book and the Air Force, only to die of a heart attack a few years later, still a relatively young man. Al left government service that year, too, for a while, but the reason, far from being job-related, was the simple fact that his beloved wife, Dee, hated crowded Washington and yearned for the open spaces. So they up and moved West, Al went to work for Douglas Aircraft Co. and eventually rejoined the government payroll, first at NASA (sometimes as the voice of mission control during a space launch) and then with the Atomic Energy Commission.

Al's letter pretty much delineates the end of an era, a period when citizens could depend somewhat upon openness in government. The CIA, H.P. Robertson and the gang were concerned about UFO reports messing up intelligence channels integral to national security, so everybody went nuts and decided to downplay UFOs from that point forward. Maybe it was a good idea at the time, but -- but look where we are today. The policy never went away and things just became worse. Any, any -- any government public information official daring to write a letter like that on official paper tomorrow would be nailed faster than you can say yes-we-can.

Way back in this blog, I posed a question or two about heroes, contemplating who they are and what makes them heroes. While many are obvious, too many more are not. Is it heroic, for instance, for ex-military personnel to come forward and alert the public that those UFOs which governments so stringently deny are actually, from their own perspective and observation, intelligently controlled objects sired by amazing sources unknown, even when such admissions may questionably violate security oaths they took years ago?

Make no mistake, Chop echoed the UFO opinions of many in the government, though being far too modest and careful to specify more than "some of the personnel" in his letter, at this time when freedom of official speech glowed refreshingly tangible in specific instances. "Some of the personnel," hardly a reference to office folks standing around a water cooler, meant high-ranking military people, engineers and scientists, and there were many standing silently on Chop's side of the philosophical aisle.

Contrast the early fifties with the current day, when former military officers such as Robert Salas and Charles Halt come forward, probably at considerable risk to themselves, to alert us of incidents which open governments are charged with telling us about, but won't. Yet, the numbers of former military UFO whistle blowers appear to be on a steady increase (per especially the research and writings of Robert Hastings and revelations from the Bentwaters RAF base/Rendlesham Forest witnesses). Who are our modern heroes? Who are the new patriots -- or is there a "new?"

Funny, isn't it? In Chop's time, everybody recognized the enemy. Now, nebulous forces and agents of regulation consider us our own worst enemy, and telling the truth is, presumably, a punishable offense, as supposed national security entities wait vigilantly to wield a destructive club in strange ways against their own. Our own. Oh, absolutely yes, how I honor Al Chop's truthful, lay-it-on-the-line letter to Henry Holt & Co., truly bold and tragically emblematic for the end of an era.

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