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It was one of those hot, midsummer evenings back in the day when few homes and no cars had A/C. As was the fashion of the era, people would go driving out in the country on a sweltering night in hopes of catching a cool breeze before turning in. Many times on a particularly humid night “turning in” meant that my family would sleep on the screened-in back porch, sounds of the animals, birds and insects in the darkness helping to create an hypnotic, restful state. Even in the heat, I always fell asleep quickly when we slept on that old back porch. On such a night in my ninth year, mom, dad, grandma Miller and I were riding with unca Roy (my namesake) in his old Plymouth. We were somewhere west of town on old K-32 highway in Kansas. We were still sipping our milk shakes from Dairy King. (Another sure-fire cooler-downer.) My father preferred them to those of the recent upstart, Dairy Queen. Mom called it a “dad thing.” Sure enough, as we meandered along the two-lane blacktop, rolling up and down the slightly hilly terrain there were distinctly chilly spots, especially in places where the road dipped. Everyone would let out a collective “sigh” when we came upon such a spot.
Then as we approached a little berm on my side of the car I noticed a glow of light from behind, the small hill hiding whatever was producing the light. I watched, riveted, as the glow intensified, and then something shot straight up from the bright light behind the hill and was gone in a split-second. It was all dark again. My nine-year-old mind was quite excited at this and I started talking, almost screaming, “Wow, did anybody else see that!!? It was a big ball of fire and something took off and I saw it! Did anybody else?” Nobody else did of course. After I calmed down, my dear, now departed grandmother Miller said “That’s OK Roy. I believe you” and patted me on the hand.
Some twenty years later there was a movie. Made by the master himself, Steven Spielberg. It was an epic work of early digital blue screen magic. It was called “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The title reflected a way of referring to human-UFO interaction: A close encounter of the First Kind is a sighting. A close encounter of the Second Kind is physical evidence. A close encounter of the Third Kind is contact. Now, some UFOlogists (yes, there really is such a thing, but the term won’t be found in any scholarly tome-unless it is used in derision) are calling an alien abduction a close encounter of the Fourth Kind. Speilberg’s movie included all four but only alluded to the three that had been codified up to that time But I am getting ahead of myself.
The movie generated lots of press and lots of spin-off stories. Always having an interest in the mysterious and unexplained, I pressed the editor of Star Magazine, Howard Turtle, for an assignment to do “some sort of UFO piece.” I guess he finally became weary of hearing me yap about it and relented. He had not much interest in the subject. I called authors who had written books on the subject. I talked to local UFO enthusiasts. I called one writer who specialized in debunking UFOs. At length I discovered Hayden Hewes. He lived in the Oklahoma City area and was president of the Midwest UFO Network (MUFON), which was a clearing house for people wanting to make UFO reports. Hayden, an avid UFO-olgist, worked as a manager at a TG&Y store (a national chain general store type business that went away in the 1980’s) in Oaklahoma city.
He met me at the door, offered tea or coffee and introduced me to his wife, a pretty, petite woman with long blond hair and apparently a few years his junior. I was to find out later that she was a fortune teller. Hayden excused himself to gather up some papers and photos he wanted me to see and left the room. At this point I realized that the snow storm that was just hitting Kansas City as my flight left had made its way to Oklahoma City.
The wind began to howl and whistle around around the corners of the Hewes’ apartment and for a moment caught the attention of both his wife and myself. “Looks like it’s blowing in,” she said. “I must have brought it with me because it was right on my airplane’s tail all the way here.” “Thanks a lot,” she retorted with feigned sarcasm. When we both brought our focus back to the room she told me of her life-long natural talent for fortune telling and asked if I would like for her to give me a reading. Sky blue, cows moo, grass green, Pope Catholic. Sure, I wanted her to read my fortune.
This was a serious session. She had a genuine, fortune-telling crystal ball and kept wiping it with a black cloth, as if trying to see more clearly. She gazed steadily into the crystal ball and was very quiet for several minutes. She asked me if I had any plans to go to Africa. No, I didn’t. She rubbed the crystal ball some more. She kept seeing me walking along a path in the deep jungle, black, large-toothed leopards and other beasts clawing at me and trying to attack me. She said that it seemed as long as I stayed on the gentle, winding path the fierce animals could not harm me.
While I did not go to Africa, not ever, I did have an assignment a few months later to shoot the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas. The explorer couple recorded the very first sound film in Africa and this museum was full of thousands of artifacts they had brought back from the continent. Fortunately, none of them were reaching and clawing for me. But it sure LOOKED like Africa. How could she have known, or at least have come so close to predicting… Anyway, by this time Hayden had returned and the storm outside was getting worse. We talked into the teens about grey aliens, Area 51, and also Big Foot, another of Hayden’s interests. The very fascinating evening concluded, and as I walked to the car through the pelting snow/sleet or whatever it was, I imagined I saw a Big Foot or grey alien behind every snow-draped bush…
“Roy, you’ve never met me, so let me describe myself. I am 6’5″ and over 250 pounds. There is not very much that scares me. But that night, I swear my hair stood on end!”
The man on the other end of the phone was a deputy sheriff in North Dakota. He formerly worked for the Coffeyville, Kansas sheriff’s office, where his UFO encounter of the First Kind occurred and ultimately was the reason he wound up in North Dakota. He went on to describe what happened.
“It was a Saturday night and all of a sudden the radio started chattering about people seeing a strange, luminous object in the sky, scaring the heck out of kids, adults and especially the farm animals. Another deputy and I were able to make out the light in the distance and with one other part-time deputy, we triangulated our positions by radio relative to the object. We figured that I was closest so I would take the lead and follow whatever it was.
“When I approached the light I saw that it was huge, hard to say just how big in the darkness with no ground reference point, but my best guess was maybe 100′ in diameter. It actually wasn’t perfectly round. More diamond-shaped. There was a row of white rotating lights around the edges. “It flew about 50′ high and headed pretty much straight down the dirt road right in front of me. After a few minutes, it stopped over a pond at the end of the road. That was when I got out of the car and realized that I wasn’t exactly sure who had cornered who. I called for backup and have to say I was pretty shook up. It slowly moved toward me, shined a reddish light on me and my patrol car, stopped, then shot straight up and was gone. “Then I began to shake. I was about as scared as the time when an escaped prisoner somehow grabbed my gun, held it up to my temple and said ‘I’m gonna blow your brains out!’ And he would have if my canine hadn’t got to him first.”
I will not use the deputy’s name because of what he told me next.
“After the incident I wrote up a full report and went about my business. The next day I was inundated with media attention. It got to be a real circus and I could barely do my job. Then the harassing phone calls and the snickers behind my back started. There is a mind set that says that anyone who sees something unusual in the night sky is a nut case. It is now pretty obvious to me that the Air Force has promoted this idea, why I can’t say.”
The deputy had apparently not read any of the reports about numerous pilots who had seen UFO’s. In the fullness of time, when pilots figured out the reaction of most people, especially their bosses, they simply quit filing reports. Some commercial pilots who reported seeing UFO’s lost their jobs. I did some background checking on the deputy and nothing in it would have led anyone to think he was one of those nut cases. He received a number of commendations for his work, did not drink or smoke. The guy was an adult Boy Scout for gosh sakes. But even given his exemplary record, that one close encounter of the First Kind on an otherwise deserted dirt road near Coffeville, Kansas led to his having to resign his job and move far from his hometown. The public pressure was just too much for him and his family to bear.
Final note on the interview: It was recorded, with his permission of course. As I listened over and over again to the tape (pre-digital) something struck me as rather odd. When we first began the conversation he definitely had a Kansas accent, that sort of “twang” that we locals don’t usually notice. But as he related the incident his voice lost virtually all of its regional characteristics. He was accent neutral. A while later, in an interview with a professor about the psychological implications of UFO encounters, I learned that my experience was not unusual. “Most people,” he went on to instruct, “when describing a first time ever experience will lose their colloquial speech patterns. It is as though they are a child, seeing something for the first time and have no frame of reference to accurately describe it. Children are born with the ability to speak any language, any dialect. The theory is that a completely new stimulus somehow triggers that early, intuitive instinct.” It was a little over my head, but I caught the drift.
The last days we spent in the bakery that I opened in Colorado in a fit of midlife crisis were long, hectic and stressful. We had the sale of the business to finalize, the move back to KC to arrange, new schools for the kids, etc. So, we decided to go to the dollar movie in Aurora to escape reality that Friday night. Not much more than those few movie dollars left after dropping a quarter mil in the big hole in Denver called The Great Harvest Bread Co. But, that is another story.
The movie I would rate as about a grade B+, but entertaining. I recall still the name: “Under Fire” starring Nick Nolte. He was a photojournalist covering some South American war. He shot the old manual Nikon F cameras. After we got home I was reminded that the two daughters were having a couple of friends over for a slumber party (boy, there is an oxymoron!). The wife and I made snacks while the four girls made up their beds. The rental house in Parker, Colorado had a walk-out terrace kind of basement, so that our rear window gave us a spectacular, panoramic view of the Front Range, from Long’s Peak to the north, all the way to Pike’s Peak in the south. As I glanced up from popcorn-making I noticed that there was what appeared to be a lighted radio transmission tower off to the south-south west and near to the ground, that I did not recall seeing before. I remarked as much to my two young daughters, and they took a look as did their two overnighting friends. As we talked about where it might be and how far away it was, a strange thing happened: The five red “radio antenna” lights began to peel off, the top one starting a circle to the right, followed by number two, three, four and five. Now the five lights, instead of standing up straight as a radio antenna would, were going in perfect circles.
After a short time, they went in random directions, all the while keeping a fairly close pattern. Next they would form a static, horizontal row of all five lights. This display, back and forth, up and down, sideways and all ways, went on for the better part of an hour. This was no radio antenna. Oddly, my wife refused to look. No amount of persuasion would change her mind. She just wasn’t going to look, an attitude which puzzles me to this day. At one point the girls became frightened and ran over and hugged me, as if I would have been any help. “I think if they meant us harm they would have done so already,” I told them, trying to reassure myself as well.
At length the lights just disappeared, streaking upward and out of sight. Not long before that incident I started freelancing for the Denver Post, so as an integral part of that gig I had the name and direct number of the Parker, CO cop shop dispatcher. I called and asked if he knew what it was. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it Roy,” he said. “You see some funny things up here in the mountains. It’s not like back in Kansas.” I hung up, a little puzzled at what he meant by that… But unlike my initial First Encounter, this time I had witnesses. Young witnesses, granted, but all of perfect eyesight and all with the typical curiosity of ten and twelve-year-olds. And no, I did not get any pictures. I had already sold my long lenses.
So, the answer to the question, “Do You Believe in UFO’s”
That isn’t even the right question.
The real answer is far more complicated.
For starters, the term “UFO sightings” is more precisely described by the term “UFO phenomenon.”
The UFO phenomenon is a complicated interaction between of human perception, man-made structures and flying objects, celestial convergences and many, many as yet unexplained, naturally occurring electrical, chemical and optical events. throw into the mix the ridicule that attaches to those who have admitted to sighting a UFO, and you have a veritable witch’s brew of electro-chemical-opticalpsychologicla-physica manifestations. That has been the consensus of scientific explanations. In short, the UFO phenomenon contains many more elements than just unknown objects in the sky.
But in December of 2017, the government admitted that the study of UFO’s was ongoing and that $22 million had been spent on it. There was even a video released of a close encounter with a Navy jet with what were called “anomalous aerial vehicles.
Conspiracy theorists had a field day with that news.