Unexplained Things That Happened On Military Bases

Military bases have always been mysterious places. Some are so mysterious that the military insists they don't exist, even though Google Earth and all those "Keep Out" signs make it pretty clear they do. Others aren't terribly mysterious, but we still try to find reasons to believe they are. The truth, though, is stranger than the conspiracy theories, and there really are some seriously weird, unexplained things that happen in these very regimented places. Here are some of the ones we know about. Now imagine, just for a moment, how many more there might be hidden away in classified files in some creepy Cold War-era building. Scary, right?

The death of LaVena Johnson

In 2012, more active-duty U.S. soldiers took their own lives than were killed in action. Suicide is a huge problem in the armed forces, but that statistic has some sinister undertones. Maybe not all of those deaths were suicides. Maybe it's just easier for the military to call them that.

Just days before her 20th birthday in 2005, LaVena Johnson died on an American military base in Iraq. According to the Huffington Post, her parents were told her death was a suicide and were asked to sign off on a closed-casket funeral.

But Johnson wasn't depressed, and her family couldn't fathom why she might have wanted to take her own life. Unsatisfied, they demanded access to Johnson's remains and discovered that her body had been mutilated by acid in what appeared to be an attempt to obliterate DNA evidence. She'd also clearly been beaten. And someone had physically glued military gloves to her hands in order to hide further evidence of acid burns. 

This is not a unique case, either. If you spend a few minutes Googling "unsolved military deaths," you'll find similar stories. Why would the military want to cover up murders in their ranks? Maybe they don't want to spend resources on long investigations. Maybe they're protecting the killers. Maybe people really do commit suicide by beating their own faces and pouring acid all over their bodies. And unless someone in the ranks decides to confess, we may never have any real answers.

Weird drone attack

There's something super-creepy about drones. When you see a drone buzzing around over the fairgrounds or over the park where your kids are playing tag, you keep an eye on it because you have no way of knowing who's flying it or what it's carrying around. Now imagine you're on a military base, which is supposed to be a pretty secure location, and a bunch of armed drones show up.

According to the Post-Gazette, that's what happened in Syria in January 2018, when 13 homemade drones of unknown origins descended on a Russian military base. Russian officials seized the opportunity to let the world know how awesome their anti-drone technology is, claiming to have quickly shot down some of the drones and disabled the rest of them with "electronic countermeasures." Then they insinuated that maybe the U.S. had something to do with the attack, since the wood, tape, and lawnmower engine construction of the drones was just far "too sophisticated" to be attributed to ordinary rebels. Sorry, Russia, that doesn't really say a whole lot about your own technology, or the super-awesomeness of your electronic countermeasures. It sounds like anyone could take out one of those things just by throwing a couple rocks at it, but you know, keep patting yourselves on the back.

Mystery illness at 30,000 feet

When you're an Air Force pilot, you know the dangers. You could get shot down by the enemy. You could make a fatal mistake during training. But for the most part, you can trust your equipment. F-35s, for example, are some of the most sophisticated (and expensive) aircraft in the world, designed not only as deadly weapons but to keep their pilots safe.

So when F-35 pilots at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona started to suffer from a mysterious ailment with symptoms similar to oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) between May and June 2017, the military took their complaints very seriously. They grounded all F-35 flights until they could figure out what was going on. Then, when they couldn't figure out what was going on, they just sent everyone back in the air. It's okay, though, because the Air Force made sure pilots were all trained to spot the symptoms of hypoxia, which makes up for it. Because oxygen deprivation at 30,000 feet is perfectly fine as long as you know it's oxygen deprivation. And here's another little fact: It might not have even been oxygen deprivation because hypoxia symptoms usually clear up once oxygen is restored, and these pilots all continued to experience symptoms after they returned to base.

Oh, and according to the Washington Examiner it's not just F-35s, it's also T-6 trainers, Navy T-45 trainers, and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. But you know, the drills must go on.

Unidentified nocturnal screams

If you Google "military base ghosts" you get about a million hits, so clearly hauntings are an armed forces epidemic. Not everyone who claims to have seen or heard a ghost on a military base is totally credible, but soldiers are trained to be fearless in the face of danger so you'd think level-headedness would win out over things that go bump in the night. Funnily enough, military base ghost stories are pervasive enough that you can even find them on official base websites.

According to Warren Air Force Base, airmen were awoken late one night by the sound of a screaming woman. The sound was described as "thick with desperation and despair," and it's not like it rang out just once and then went silent — it went on for four hours.

Police tried to find the source of the sound, which would stop temporarily and then start up again in another part of the base, but no terrified, injured, or deceased woman was ever found. The airmen later learned that a young woman had been raped and murdered in the 1920s near the base's family camp. 

And there's more where that came from, like stories of apparitions wearing cavalry uniforms or rearranging furniture — fun stuff like that. If you actually live on Warren Air Force Base, it's really not that much fun at all, unless you're into disembodied screams and phantom cavalrymen.

Alien WMD protest

Ghosts love military bases, but aliens love them even more. Just ask those little gray dudes who have been living underground at Area 51 since the '60s. You know, if Area 51 really exists. (Wink, wink.) But just because you're a mischievous alien doesn't mean you absolutely have to go to Area 51. You could also visit Malmstrom Air Force base, which has some missiles you could mess with.

That's what happened in 1967 when a bunch of aliens decided they'd had enough of humans and their nuclear ambitions. According to CBS, mysterious lights appeared over the weapon storage and testing grounds at Malmstrom Air Force base — lights that were seen by more than 120 service members. During one incident, a glowing red object appeared in the sky, and then 10 missiles became "inoperative." Officers had to "restart" the missiles on a couple occasions, always after another UFO sighting.

What makes these sightings stand out from the typical, "Oh my god, aliens abducted me and my cow and probed my innards" sightings is that the testimony came from former Air Force personnel, some of them high-ranking — people who don't really have any real incentive for making up stories about alien spaceships. Now, one does wonder why those aliens don't make themselves useful and head over to North Korea for a while, but maybe they just don't want to get involved.

Unexplained infant deaths

So we've established that military bases are haunted, plagued by aliens, and vulnerable to attack by flying lawnmowers, but there may be even more sinister things lurking on the other side of those guard towers. You can't deny the military uses strange and secretive chemicals to do strange and secretive things because if you do you're no fun at all. But if such rumors are true, then they have dire implications for the people who live and work on those military bases, particularly in very old buildings located near the places where the military is doing strange and secretive things with strange and secretive chemicals.

According to Fox News, two infants died under mysterious circumstances in 2009 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Now, sudden unexplained infant death is tragically not that unusual, but what makes these two cases particularly notable is that they occurred only three months apart and inside the same home. The two infants were from different families, too — the first family vacated the home shortly after their baby died, and then the second one moved in afterward.

After the 2009 deaths, 10 additional infant deaths at Fort Bragg, occurring between 2007 and 2011 came to light, prompting a widening of the investigation, which ultimately found no obvious cause. Now, no one is saying strange and secretive chemicals were definitely the cause of any of the deaths, but it does seem like a rather bizarre and terrifying coincidence.

Russian radio transmission

If you've seen Lost you know all about countdown timers that have to be manually reset every 108 minutes. And then you might think this story about a bizarre Russian radio transmission could be explained, except you know that pretty much nothing in Lost ever got explained.

According to Gizmodo, since 1982 people have been listening in on a high-frequency radio transmission called UVB-76, also called "the Buzzer." When it was first identified, UVB-76 played a two-second blip on a loop. Then in the 1990s it turned into a weird buzzing sound. In 2003 it got a little higher, then cleared its throat and went back to the same old familiar buzz. And you can still hear it today, if you know where to tune in.

Okay, so it's just feedback or something, right? Well, sometimes the buzzing stops and a voice reads out a bunch of Russian letters and numbers. Some people think this is Russia's own version of the Lost countdown timer — a "dead man's switch" that will trigger nuclear Armageddon if it ever stops transmitting.

Eventually, someone traced the signal to the now-abandoned military base at Povarovo, where they found a log book containing some of the messages that had been transmitted on UVB-76. But that's about as close as anyone has ever come to solving the mystery of the Buzzer. Or figuring out what was going on during six seasons of Lost.

Mass hysteria and phantom snakes

Mass hysteria gets blamed for everything. In 1965, 300 school kids inexplicably fainted and it was deemed mass hysteria. The 1962 laughter epidemic of Tanganyika, which lasted months and affected a thousand people? Mass hysteria. And here's another one: 2013 in Roodepan, South Africa, hundreds of students fled the 3SAI army base because they'd been attacked by a phantom snake (among other things).

According to Independent Online, the students were enrolled in a four-month character building exercise with a program called the National Rural Youth Service Corps, and the military base hosting them was kind of spooky. A few of the students started to report supernatural happenings, then another one claimed to be a witch who was going to poison everyone's food, then the whole weird snake thing started happening, and pretty soon everyone was screaming and running from the building. Students took refuge at a nearby police station, and then argued with program directors about whether they had to give back their clothes and toothpaste.

The students, who numbered about 700, were pretty incensed that no one believed they were having supernatural experiences, but mass hysteria was eventually blamed for the whole affair. And as far as we know, no one ever found the snake.

The strange return of stolen weapons

When explosives disappear from a military base, that's bad. When they reappear scattered in a field, that's extra bad, and also kind of bizarre.

According to the Portugal Resident, 57 kilos of plastic explosives, 44 rocket launchers, and 130 grenades vanished from the Tancos military base in July 2017, prompting the resignations of five generals. The theft was so worrying that officials increased patrols at all three of Portugal's national airports and prepared for a terrorist attack because clearly no one steals that much weaponry unless they're planning on stirring up some major poop.

While it's bizarre enough that thieves could make off with a cache of weapons that enormous without anyone seeing anything, what's perhaps more bizarre is the place where they were eventually discovered — "scattered in scrubland" less than an hour from the scene of the crime. Almost all of the stolen weapons were recovered, with the exception of some ammunition, which suggests that whoever stole them realized they'd probably taken on more than they could handle and figured they'd better abandon the endeavor before someone found them out.

Scattering your stolen cache in scrubland is admittedly pretty weird, though, and Portuguese officials were lucky that the headlines were "stolen weapons recovered" instead of "stolen weapons kill a bunch of little kids who were out playing in the scrublands."

The crash of L-8

This story began at the U.S. airship base at Treasure Island, and ended at a house south of San Francisco. Or rather, on a house south of San Francisco.

According to Popular Mechanics, the L-8 airship was designed to spot enemy submarines off the coast of California. It was one of a fleet of more than 150 similar airships that were in service between 1942 and 1945 — such crafts could act as convoy escorts and drop depth charges on enemy vessels.

This particular airship took off for a routine patrol on August 16, 1942, with its two-man crew. Five hours later, it careened into a row of houses in a south San Francisco suburb. And here's the really weird part: In what was almost certainly one of the biggest WTF moments in naval history, rescuers discovered there wasn't anyone on board.

No one has ever solved the mystery. The crew's bodies weren't discovered anywhere nearby or anywhere at all, so it's unclear if they bailed out, why they might have bailed out, or which alien spacecraft beamed them aboard and pressed them into military service off-world.

The story doesn't quite end there, though. That particular L-8 airship was rebranded "The Goodyear Blimp" and went on to spend decades floating around over baseball fields. How they got anyone to crew the ship again after that creepy incident in San Francisco is anyone's guess.

Genuine illness or more mass hysteria?

Remember those babies who died at Fort Bragg in North Carolina? The military's official position is that the deaths weren't linked to anything environmental, which we'd all certainly like to believe, but then this happened.

According to American Military News, in September 2016, a bunch of fifth graders participating in a team-building exercise at the Fort Rucker army base in Dale County, Alabama, suddenly became ill. (What their symptoms were is unclear.) But this wasn't just a handful of kids, either, it was 24 of them — 11 of whom had symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. The school was immediately closed pending "extensive environmental testing" but nothing unusual was found in the air or the water (sound familiar?) so students were permitted back at school just a couple days after the incident. Mass hysteria, perhaps? Or just more evidence that military bases might not be the safest places for children? Either way, officials seemed pretty proud of the speed at which the students were able to return to their definitely-not-toxic campus. No secretive chemicals or alien radiation to see here. Maybe it was just mass hysteria. Move along.

The Deepcut Four

The Deepcut Four sounds like the name of a contingent of spies or a secret military club, the kind of stuff people only get to read about decades later when it finally gets declassified. In reality, though, the Deepcut Four is not a club you'd want to be a member of because everyone in the club is dead.

Between 1995 and 2002, four recruits at the Deepcut barracks in Surrey, England, died from gunshot wounds, and the military said all were suicides. Anyone else getting a strange sense of deja vu? Maybe the British military wants unexplained deaths to be suicides, too, as it's such a neat little investigation-free package.

According to the BBC, the families of the Deepcut Four did not agree with the army's conclusions and had their own investigations done, and in 2004 a ballistics expert agreed that most of the injuries were probably not self-inflicted. One of the recruits had been shot five times, which seems pretty impossible for a suicide. Another was shot twice in the head. And a third was described as a cheerful person who had no reason to take his own life. Only one of the four was definitively ruled a suicide.

In the years since, the military has mostly just responded by saying things like, "We're the military and we say it was suicide," leaving the families to shoulder the burden of the investigation alone. So much for brothers in arms.