Born in Ottumwa, Iowa in June 20, 1897, Donald Keyhoe earned a Bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant’s rank in the US Marine Corps as an aviator in 1919. In 1922 while training in Guam, Keyhoe was injured in a plane crash. While recovering from his injuries Donald took up the hobby of writing. Sadly, in 1923 Keyhoe was forced to retire from active duty with the US Marines as he suffered from chronic problems with his arm.
Beginning of a new career
In 1923 Donald Keyhoe worked for the US Geodetic Survey and the Department of Commerce. Then in 1927 Keyhoe managed a promotional tour for Charles Lindbergh becoming his assistant leading to his first well received book “Flying With Lindbergh” in 1928. This first popular release launched a writing career that lasted into the 1930’s as he wrote for famous pulp fiction publications as Weird Tales and Weird Fantasy. He created many interesting fictional characters and attracted avid readership prior to his UFO articles and books.
Donald Keyhoe became a respected contributor in aviation magazines as well as writing for the Saturday Evening Post, The Nation, and Reader’s Digest. His experience as an aviator had paid off!
On the trail of a mystery
With the emergence of World War II Keyhoe re-enlisted for active duty again with the US Navy in a training division and retired from active duty once again at the end of the war in the rank of Major. Being skeptical of UFO reports at first Keyhoe did not get involved in the matter until 1949 when asked by a publisher to look into the multiple incidents and testimony given by former members of the armed forces now flying passenger planes and private small aircraft services. A “True” magazine editor gave Keyhoe the assignment into inquiring about UFO reports as the US Air Force was resisting the release of details on sightings.
Becoming Number 1
This prompted Keyhoe to realize that the military had repeatedly given contradictory statements on UFO sightings. Donald, with excellent Pentagon sources began receiving inside information that his contemporaries of the time could not get access to and soon became leader of the UFO investigation movement. Even Captain Edward J. Ruppelt in his book “The Report on UFO’s” circa 1956 acknowledged that Keyhoe’s article “Flying Saucers Are Real” was probably one of the most widely read and talked about pieces ever published besides making a mocking comment about the former USMC Major being able to read the mind of one of the US Air Force’s generals concerning UFO’s.
As the UFO flap of 1952 along with the Washington National Sightings hit the newspapers, Keyhoe published a succession of successful books about UFO’s that fascinated the public and drew controversy from the military who acknowledged his work, but were angered that Donald refused to knuckle under to the pressure of ridicule as many others did as the truth embargo about the subject continued with the US media as well as the US Air Force. In an infamous incident of censorship on nationwide TV during a Mike Wallace interview, Donald Keyhoe dared to interview an Air Force Colonel off script and was literally blacked out from the TV screen in 1958.
Assisting families of the lost
In 1953 after the disappearance of a USAF flight crew over Soo Locks when an all-weather interceptor crew of an F-89 Scorpion were lost after being scrambled to identify a UFO, Keyhoe responded to the grief stricken families of Felix Moncla and Lieutenant Wilson. While the US Air Force refused to release specific details to the families, Donald Keyhoe used his sources at the Pentagon to give them as much information as possible to the appreciation of the bereaved relatives. There was no doubt about it, Keyhoe had become a thorn in the US Air Force’s side.
A force to be reckoned with
It was Donald Keyhoe’s contention all along that the US Air Force was not only covering up the truth about UFO’s but that the flying saucer was of extraterrestrial origin and the military concerned over causing public hysteria was concealing the truth. Further displaying his force of will, Keyhoe established NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) in 1956. Keyhoe utilized retired and active military officers and intelligence staff to analyze major sightings so as not to allow the US Air Force to debunk UFO sightings without opposition as Project Blue Book by that time had been reduced to a Public Relations outfit no longer concerned with serious study and evaluation as it had started out under first director, Captain Ed Ruppelt.
His courageous fight continued
Into the early to mid-sixties NICAP continued in opposition to the staunchly anti-saucer stance of the US Air Force who were now being mocked by the once skeptical US press Corps. Due to some of the most ridiculous explanations offered up by astronomical advisor, Doctor J. Allen Hynek, but much to Keyhoe’s dismay, his beloved organization was infiltrated by the CIA and became compromised! Donald Keyhoe resigned as Director in disgust. His last book was published in 1975 “Aliens in Space” and proved to be another influential source for those who were interested in not only UFO”s but the well-organized denial by the federal government that Keyhoe was constantly faced with. One must consider Donald Keyhoe not only to be the first UFOlogist in the history of the controversy, but to also be one of the first whistle blowers who revealed the extent to which the “Official Version” of the story was often deceptive while withholding the truth. His impeccable sources within the Pentagon gave Keyhoe had the kind of credentials possessed by few of his contemporaries.
To his memory and respect for his pioneering work in uncovering government secrecy, NICAP was reopened under new personnel dedicated to carrying on his legacy, and archives of reports made during the agency’s golden years were preserved and made available. Keyhoe, often met with skepticism and even disrespect by some journalists such as Mike Wallace, remained cool and informative whenever making public statements. When I met Robert Emanegger for a radio talk show we both appeared together on at KLIF AM in Dallas in 1994, Robert remembered meeting Keyhoe at a time when his influence was in decline and he described Keyhoe as considering other researchers to be infringing on his bailiwick as Emanegger put it. However, I will always respect Donald Keyhoe for his service to his country and his integrity in the face of government denial and ridicule.