Sightings of flying saucers were reported in Union, Baker and Umatilla counties on June 26 and 29 of 1947.

A story in the June 27, 1947, edition of The Observer reported that on June 26 at least three people in La Grande spotted unidentified flying objects in the sky.

“Flying Saucers Seen Streaking Over City,” read the headline on the front page of The Observer, then named The La Grande Evening Observer.

A La Grande High School student, Leroy James, reported that he saw strange shiny objects in the sky that looked like saucers. Jones said there were nine saucers weaving in and out. The high school student said he saw them after two Catholic nuns pointed them out.

“They looked bright and round and seemed to have fins,” he said.

On the same day, H. E. Hammond, of Eustis, Florida, saw what he described as a “flying pie plate” while at Radium Springs, near Haines, according to the June 26, 1947, edition of the Baker Democrat Herald, now named the Baker City Herald. Eustis was a retired railroad telegrapher.

A story in the June 30, 1947, Baker Democrat Herald reported that a woman in the Pendleton area saw seven “perfectly round, umbrella like” objects flying in a northwesterly direction at 11 a.m. June 29.

The June 26 and 29, 1947, sightings came about a week after La Grande Police Officer George Webb reported seeing a vapor trail at great altitude to the northwest of the city, according to the June 27 Observer article.

Webb said the apparent trail was a line of vapor that was visible for nearly half an hour before it slipped to a horizontal position and disappeared over the horizon. The patrolman, who observed the phenomenon through binoculars, reported that it was very compact and unlike any vapor trail he had ever seen.

Webb’s sighting was made just before a UFO report in the June 24, 1947, edition in the East Oregonian created a national fervor. The story, by EO writers Nolan Skiff, a former La Grande Evening Observer reporter, and Bill Bequette, was about Kenneth Arnold, a Boise, Idaho, pilot and businessman. Arnold had stopped in Pendleton while flying his private plane home from Washington. The pilot said on June 23 he saw “nine saucer-like aircraft flying in formation” at an altitude of between 9,500 and 10,000 feet between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams moving at “the amazing speed of about 1,200 miles an hour.”

The quote is believed to have been the origin of the creation of the term “flying saucer,” although the East Oregonian writers were not the wordsmiths of the term, according to a story in a 2017 edition of the East Oregonian by Phil Wright.

“The imagery was there,” Wright wrote, but he said his newspaper never used the phrase “flying saucer” in its reporting, contrary to plenty of anecdotes.

According to Wright, within days of the East Oregonian breaking the story, which was picked up by the Associated Press, the term “flying saucer” was coined by a bright newspaper writer elsewhere.

“The term stuck in the lexicon and the American psyche,” he wrote.

Arnold was thrust into the national spotlight after the story of his report was published. He said people had mixed reactions to what he said.

“Half the people I see look at me as a combination of Einstein, Flash Gordon and a screwball,” Arnold said in a late June 1947 Associated Press story, printed in The Observer.

Coincidentally — or not — the reported UFO sightings in the Cascades and Northeast Oregon came less than two weeks before the famous alleged crash of a flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico, which was first reported July 8,
1947.

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