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Chariots of Fire
Center, Texas

by James L. Choron

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James L. Choron
The UFO wave of 1972-73 was the last “classical” UFO wave to sweep North America… at least the United States. It began in the fall of 1972, as a group of isolated, but seemingly consistent sightings in the Southwestern and Southeastern parts of the country, and eventually turned into a nationwide phenomenon. Now, many people will attribute these sightings to “natural” occurrences, and the U.S. Government certainly has ample “explanations” for each and every sighting, from “atmospherics” to “weather balloons” to “planetary alignments”… still… I know what I saw, and it wasn’t a weather balloon.

It was the second Friday in November, 1972, and the Center (Texas) Roughriders had just taken a 48 to 0 drubbing at the hands of the Carthage Bulldogs… at their homecoming… Now this kind of humiliation at one’s homecoming might sound just ghastly to any football fan, but it was not, in point of fact, the worst defeat suffered by the Roughriders that season… they had a perfect season, that year… didn’t win a single game. But, they did manage to get into the record books, two weeks later, when the (Longview, Texas) Pine Tree Pirates defeated them 72 to 0…with Pine Tree set up to score again when time ran out… the worst single defeat ever suffered by a Texas High School Football Team… a record which stands to this day…

It’s fairly easy for me to remember the date, because, even if the football game, that night, was less than memorable… what followed it was not. LaMoine, Charlie Harmon, Pedro and I, and another friend of ours named Rick Bauer, were all loaded into my old ’56 Pontiac (Old Matilda) and were headed home after the game. I usually got the driving detail in those days… with the rest of the guys buying the (35 cent a gallon) gas, since Old Matilda was one of the biggest cars in Center, she could accommodate something like ten of us if we packed her right. This was an especially useful characteristic on Wednesday nights, when you could get into the Apache Drive-in, and see a fairly good “B” movie for “One Dollar A Car”… no matter how many people were in it… and we could easily get ten or twelve in the car and another four (five, if one of them was short) in the trunk.

In any case, we were on our way home after the latest insult to our school pride on the football field, and were, in spite of this, in a generally good mood. I had a route I followed, which sort of went in a big circle, starting at the football field, and dropping people off until I eventually wound up home, myself. We had just gotten to Rick’s house and were all standing out in his front yard talking, when Pedro looked up at the sky and said “What’s THAT?”

Naturally, we all looked up…

Above us, in a perfectly clear Autumn sky, against a backdrop of stars, were three fairly large silver lights. They seemed to be moving, in a triangular, or diamond shaped formation, from roughly West to East… They looked to be, from where we were standing, about the size of a dime, and were circular. Each one, had a smaller, blinking greenish-blue light in the center, and a red light, that didn’t blink, in “front”… that is to say the part that was facing the direction that they were going… and they were going fast.

Now, anyone who has watched an airplane, especially at night, realizes that speed is not always reflected in what you can see. The sky is big, and even if a plane is moving relatively fast, it appears to move fairly slowly, because it is high up, and is seen against such a vast background. As I said, these objects appeared to be about the size of a dime, but they also appeared to be fairly high up… which means that they were huge… They were also moving fast enough that we had to physically turn to track them with our eyes… pretty fast.

Abruptly, they just stopped… They didn’t slow down. They stopped. They were completely dead in the air for a period of several seconds… still in their triangular formation, and still “pointing” the same direction… but absolutely motionless. As we watched, a thin line of reddish light began to dart between the three shapes. It would go from one to the other, almost as if they were “shooting” it at each other… but… it didn’t seem to be a hostile act... Then, they began to move again, just as suddenly as they had stopped… in exactly the opposite direction. They headed back in the direction from which they had originally come.

Once again, they stopped suddenly, then seemed to shoot straight up, until they were almost out of sight. They then stopped again, seemed to change position slightly within their “formation” and started off, at what was literally a blinding speed, this time to the North, zig-zagging as they sped away…

A few seconds later, we heard a rumble from the East, and sonic booms, as what were obviously three very fast moving Air Force jets came into view from toward the Louisanna border. We were, in fact, so busy watching the show, that we hadn’t noticed several other cars that had stopped along the street, and their occupants were also watching the objects as they danced across the sky. One of these cars contained Ed Roberts and “Uncle” Charlie Johnson, two of our local police officers. Ed, a former Military Policeman, was observing the objects through a pair of binoculars, while Uncle Charlie was on the car radio, describing the scene to Mr. Buck Carriker, who was, at that time, Chief of Police. About every third word he uttered the phrase “Hell no, Buck, we ain’t drunk”.

Pedro (Charles Emanis) and I both worked for the “Champion”, a local newspaper. I had my camera in the car, as usual, but, this was years before the invention of “passive night optics”, and taking photos of the event was hopeless, event though we both tried. It didn’t matter. The story was all over the news the following day. Someone at Barksdale Air Force Base “leaked” the story to the press about how they had scrambled fighters to intercept three Unidentified Flying Objects, after reports of them had absolutely flooded all of the base’s incoming telephone lines. Barksdale was, and is to this day, headquarters for the 8th Air Force, one of a handful of bases in the U.S. which has nuclear armed B-52 bombers airborne at all times as part of what was once called the “failsafe” system. They were naturally a bit concerned at the thought of “foreign”, unidentified aircraft invading their air space.

We “learned” two days later, from an “official” U.S. Air Force spokesman… who was intervied on every television and radio station in a three state area… that the incident had all been a “big misunderstanding”… that no fighters had been dispatched, since the Air Force “knew all along” that the “UFOs” in question were actually a “weather observation balloon, launched from a facility near Longview, Texas, which exploded due to unfavorable atmospherics, producing the “abnormal” lighting effects that had been wittinesed”.

Maybe they were right… On the other hand, it was 1972… maybe some long-haired hippie freak put LSD into the Center Water Supply, and we were all hallucinating… maybe… but I don’t think so…

© James L. Choron
October 20, 2004
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