In “Area 51 mystery reaches to the Cape,” Cape Cod Times reporter Sean Gonsalves profiles Colonel Richard Leghorn, a central character in what Gonsalves says “can be regarded as the definitive book on Area 51.” Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
“After years of research, interviews with dozens of former Area 51 employees, and access to recently declassified documents, Jacobsen gives a detailed account of America’s most intriguing domestic military outpost in the high desert of Southern Nevada — the existence of which our government still officially denies.
Having commanded the 30th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II — flying dangerous missions over Normandy in preparation for the D-Day invasion — Col. Richard Sully Leghorn also led the aerial photography mission that captured the first images of what nuclear bombs could do to warships.
It was part of Operation Crossroads, conducted in July 1946 in the lagoons of Bikini Atoll, a 25-mile ring of coral islands out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between New Zealand and Japan.
As the Cold War dawned, it became clear that military leaders, and their spies behind the Iron Curtain, had very little intel on the Soviet Union’s nuclear capabilities. An MIT grad with a degree in physics, Leghorn came up with the idea of building planes and other high-flying instruments that could not only snap overhead shots of enemy military installations, but also be out of enemy-fire range.
The Air Force hierarchy right on up to Gen. Curtis LeMay scoffed at the idea. Lemay’s mind-set was: never mind all that high-altitude stuff. We’ll just shoot our way in and out of enemy territory and vaporize entire nations with our nukes, if need be.
LeMay, Jacobsen reports, ‘walked out of the meeting declaring that the whole overhead thing was a waste of time. But there was another group of men who had President Eisenhower’s ear, and those men made up the select group of scientists who sat on the president’s scientific advisory board, friends and colleagues of Colonel Richard Leghorn from MIT.’
At his home earlier this week, Leghorn sat with me in his den, papers spread out across the table, Jacobsen’s thick book between us. ‘She’s done an impressive job,’ he told me.”