I was born May 6, 1943. I was reared in a military family. My father is USAF Lt. Col. (Ret.) Milton V. Cooper. Dad began his Air Force career as a young cadet flying biplanes and retired as a command pilot with thousands of hours to his credit. By the time I was eight years old, I think I had already seen and been inside every plane the Air Force had ever owned. I had flown in several. I had seen many of them crash and had friends who had lost their fathers. I remember one night in the Azores at Lages Field. We were at the base theater watching a movie when the projector ground to a stop, the lights came on and a plea was made for blood donors. We knew there had been a disaster. Everyone went outside and looked down the hill at the flightline. It was literally consumed in flames. We could see men on fire running through the night. A B-29 had crashed. I will never forget the scene spread before me on that night. I had seen many crashes, and I would see many more in the years to come. But I never saw anything that could ever compare to the wreckage, the fire, the devastation, or the loss of life caused by the crash of that B-29.
I graduated in 1961 from Yamato High School in Japan. That fall I enlisted in the Air Force. I attended basic at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and Technical School for Aircraft & Missile Pneudraulics at Amarillo Air Force Base. Upon completion I was ordered to the 495th Bomb Wing of the Strategic Air Command at Sheppard Air Force Base just outside Wichita Falls. The name was later changed to the 4245th Bomb Wing. In just a short time I had gone from a skinny kid who didn’t know much about anything, to an airman who had a secret security clearance and worked on B-52 bombers, KC-135 refueling aircraft, and Minuteman missiles. I saw atomic bombs. I worked around them on a daily basis. I had to wear a dosimeter just in case I was exposed to radiation. In those days we were the elite of the Air Force and we knew it. I received a Letter of Commendation for my work. In due time I was awarded the National Defense Medal and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal. It was during this time that I met a couple of sergeants who kind of adopted me. They told me several stories about being attached to a special unit that recovered crashed flying saucers. Sgt. Meese told me that he had been on one operation that transported a saucer so large that a special team went before them, lowering all telephone poles and fence posts. Another team followed and replaced them. They moved it only at night. It was kept parked and covered some-where off the road during the day. On November 22, 1963, I was on duty as CQ (Charge of Quarters) for the Field Maintenance Squadron.
I left the Air Force with an honorable discharge in 1965. In December of the same year I joined the Navy. I was sent to the Naval Training Center in San Diego for boot camp. Because of my prior Air Force experience, I was made the Recruit Chief Company Commander. Chief Campbell turned the company over to me. He was a good man. During boot camp I volunteered for submarines (my sense of adventure was strong). I was accepted, and upon completion of basic training, was ordered to the USS Tiru (SS-416) at the submarine base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I made two close friends while on the Tiru. A seaman named Lincoln Loving and an American Indian seaman we called Geronimo. The three of us were inseparable. Lincoln was best man at my first marriage.
During a transit between the Portland-Seattle area and Pearl Harbor. I was the port lookout during the afternoon watch (1200 to 1600 hours). Geronimo was the starboard lookout. Ensign Ball was the OOD (Officer of the Deck). We were doing 10 knots on the surface and the three of us were on the bridge in the conning tower. It was a bright day, but the sun was obscured by a low layer of clouds.
I raised my binoculars just in time to see a huge disk rise from beneath the ocean, water streaming around it, tumble lazily on its axis, and disappear into the clouds. I had seen a flying saucer the size of an aircraft carrier come out of the ocean and fly into the clouds. I looked around to see if anyone else had seen it. Ensign Ball was bending over the IMC. He was ordering coffee. Geronimo was looking down the starboard side aft. I looked back out over the ocean and it had gone! It was as if nothing had happened. Ensign Ball straightened and said coffee was on the way up. I looked back toward the spot, about 15 degrees relative off the port bow, and about 2-1/2 nautical miles distant. Nothing. Not even a hint of what had happened. “Ensign Ball,” I said, “I thought I saw something about 15 degrees relative off the bow. Can you help me look over that area?” Ensign Ball raised his binoculars. I didn’t know it at the time, but Geronimo had heard me and turned to look. I was just lifting the binoculars off my chest when I saw it again. The giant saucer plunged out of the clouds, tumbled, and pushing the water before it, opened up a hole in the ocean and disappeared from view. This time I had seen it with my naked eyes, and its size was astounding. Ensign Hall stood in shock, his binoculars in his hands, his mouth open. Geronimo yelled, “Holy shit! What the — hey! did you guys see that?” Ensign Ball looked at me with the most incredulous expression and said, “This had to happen on my watch.” Quickly pressing the override on the IMC he yelled, “Captain to the bridge, Captain to the bridge.” As an afterthought he pressed the switch again and yelled, “Somebody get a camera up here.” The Captain raced up the ladder with the quartermaster on his heels. Chief Quartermaster Quintero had the ship’s 35-mm camera slung around his neck. The Captain stood patiently while Ensign Ball described what he had seen. He glanced at us and we both nodded in affirmation. That was enough for the Captain. He called sonar, who during the excitement had reported contact underwater at the same bearing. The Captain announced into the 1MC, “This is the Captain. I have the conn.” The reply came back instantly from the helm, “Aye, Aye sir.” I knew that the helmsman was passing the word in the control room that the Captain had personally taken control of the boat. I also knew that rumors were probably flying through the vessel. The Captain called down and ordered someone to closely monitor the radar. His command was instantly acknowledged. As the five of us stood gazing out over the sea the same ship or one exactly like it rose slowly, turned in the air, tilted at an angle and then vanished. I saw the Chief snapping pictures out of the corner of my eye. This time I had three images from which to draw conclusions. It was a metal machine, of that there was no doubt whatsoever. It was intelligently controlled, of that I was equally sure. It was a dull pewter color. There were no lights. There was no glow. I thought I had seen a row of what looked like portholes, but I could not be certain. Radar reported contact at the same bearing and gave us a range of 3 nautical miles. We watched as the strange craft reentered the water and then rose into the clouds over and over again until we knew it was gone for good. The episode lasted about 10 minutes. Before leaving the bridge the Captain took the camera from the Chief and instructed each of us not to talk to anyone about what we had seen. He told us the incident was classified and we were not to discuss it, not even amongst ourselves. We acknowledged his order. The Captain and the Chief left the bridge. Ensign Ball stepped to the 1MC and, pressing the override switch, announced, “This is Ensign Ball. The Captain has left the bridge. I have the conn.” The reply, “Aye aye sir,” quickly followed.
“Let’s start over again,” the Captain said. “What did you see out there?” “Nothing, sir,” I answered. “I didn’t see a damn thing.” A smile spread over his face and the Captain looked relieved. “Are you sure, Cooper?” he asked. “Yes sir,” I replied, “I’m sure.” “You’re a good sailor, Cooper,” he said. ‘The Navy needs men like You’ll go far with the Navy.” He then asked me to read several pieces of paper that all said the same thing only with different words. I read that if I ever talked about what it was that I didn’t see, I could be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years or both. In addition I could lose all pay and allowances due or ever to become due. He asked me to sign a piece of paper stating that I understood the laws and regulations that I had just read governing the safeguard of classified information relating to the national security. By signing, I agreed never to communicate in any manner any information regarding the incident with anyone. I was dismissed, and was I glad to get out of there.
Not long after that incident I left the submarines. I was transferred to the USS Tombigbee (AOG-11). The Tombigbee was a gasoline tanker. I made two WESTPAC tours aboard the Tombigbee. They included a total of 12 months off the coast of Vietnam. We came under machine-gun fire while anchored off Chu Lai. We had to do an emergency breakaway and leave the harbor. All we needed was one tracer round in one of the tanks, and KA-BOOM, it would have been all over. The Viet Cong gunner probably got busted because the stupid jerk missed the whole damn ship. How can you miss a whole ship?
We went up to a small outpost at the DM2 called Cua Viet. Cua Viet sat on the southern bank at the river mouth of the Thack Han river where every night we could see the tracers from fire fights raging up and down the river and along the DMZ. It was a real hot spot. Every once in awhile Viet Cong or NVA rockets would slam into the camp. We would perform an emergency breakaway and put to sea until the all clear sounded. Our Captain decided we were going into the river mouth. I’ll never know how we got that big ship through the narrow mouth of that river with no navigational references whatsoever. We dropped anchor midchannel and the Captain backed the ship right up to the beach and dropped the stern anchor into the sand. There we sat, a great big target full of gasoline in the mouth of a narrow river, with three anchors out, in the middle of one of the hottest combat zones in Vietnam. The next day we set to sea and started for Pearl.
Then I was transferred to the Naval Security and Intelligence School for Internal Security Specialist (NEC 9545). General training prepared me to set up security perimeters, secure installations and buildings, and safeguard classified information. My training included special weapons, booby-trap identification and disarming, the detection of bugs, phone taps, transmitters and other subjects. I was specifically trained to prepare and conduct Pacific-area intelligence briefings. Upon graduating I was transferred to Vietnam. I landed at Da Nang and was bused to Camp Carter, the headquarters for Naval Security and Intelligence in I Corps. I was interviewed by Captain Carter, the commanding officer. The names were a coincidence. Captain Carter asked me if I thought I would make a good patrol boat captain, and I told him that I would. I thought he was joking when he told me I would have command of a boat and crew. He wasn’t. Lt. Duey at the Harbor Patrol, a division of Naval Intelligence, allowed me to pick a crew. He gave me first choice of four 45-foot picket boats that had just been unloaded from the deck of a freighter. I and my new crew spent three days going over every inch of that boat. We adjusted and fine-tuned everything. We sanded and painted. One of the seamen even hung curtains in the after cabin. We checked and double-checked the engines. My gunners mate, GMG3 Robert G. Barron, checked out weapons and we began to arm our vessel. I vowed right then and there that I would be the best damn captain that ever commanded a combat vessel in wartime.
I was assigned to the Operational Status Report office (OPSTAT) under Lt. Cdr. Mercado while I awaited the results of my FBI background check for an upgraded clearance. About six months later I was called into the office of the Chief of Staff for Naval Intelligence. I was asked to read and then sign a security oath, which I did. I was then told by Captain Caldwell that my security clearance was upgraded to Top Secret, Q, Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. He told me to report to the officer in charge of the CINCPACFLT Intelligence Briefing Team the following morning at 0400 hours. I did. What I learned during the time I spent with that briefing team is what led me on my 18-year search that culminated in writing this book. I was later given another upgraded clearance in the crypto category and served as the designated SPECAT operator when I was in the command center.