Are we alone? Who knows?
You'll probably be busy during the early week of July, what with viewing fireworks displays and grilling hamburgers and the like, but in case you're looking for yet one more holiday to celebrate, I'm here to tell you not to forget that Tuesday, July 2, is World UFO Day.
The website, worldufoday.com, offers a wealth of suggestions for appropriate celebrations, such as taking part in a meetup group (the one that will be held in Tucson sounds like fun), watching alien movies together ("Independence Day" would be a logical choice), holding discussions about the possibility of extraterrestrial life or, most importantly, just looking up at the sky (although I suspect that UFOs don't come out much when you are purposely looking for them).
People don't admit to seeing unidentified flying objects as much as they used to. In the 1960s, in fact, it seemed like people were tripping over each other to announce they saw one.
The June 19 installment of "The Time Machine" on the Opinion Page made reference to Paul MacElwee's sighting of an unidentified flying object (UFO) on that date in 1967. MacElwee was city editor of the Shamokin News-Dispatch and, later, The News-Item. He not only saw three UFO's 46 years ago, he had the courage to relate his experience, in a first-person Page 1 account.
"I never thought I would have been a member of the 'I Have Seen an Unidentified Flying Object Club,' but today I am a full-fledged member, and so are a lot of my neighbors," was how MacElweee led off his account. From his Dewart Street neighborhood in Shamokin, MacElwee, the neighbors and his wife witnessed what he first thought was a flare attached to a parachute.
Having worked for MacElwee in the latter part of his career and maintained a casual friendship with him during his retirement years, I can attest that he was not a man who craved personal attention or let his imagination run away with him. He knew what he saw and, most importantly, he never exaggerated the significance of the sighting. He described the thing in the sky as a UFO, which it was: It was unidentified, because neither he nor anyone else knew what it was; it was obviously flying, and it was definitely something that had mass. He never claimed it was being piloted by little green men, and judging by the tone of his account, he was open to consider any rational explanation.
Just five months earlier, in January 1967, the newspaper reported two UFOs were sighted by several people in Irish Valley. And, even more interestingly, the website ufostalker.com has a posting dated April 28, 2011, that includes a first-person account of a Kase Street resident (not that far from MacElwee's 1967 vantage point) of the sighting of unexplained red lights high above Route 61. Clearly, it might be worth our while to take some nightime walks up on the hill.
MacElwee is, and has always been, in good company. The Internet is replete with references to famous people who definitely saw, alleged to have seen or are said to have seen UFOs. Among these, most famously, are astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Gordon Cooper and President Jimmy Carter. UFOEncounter.com also mentions such personages as Dennis Kucinich, the late Sen. Richard Russell, John Lennon, Walter Cronkite and Christopher Columbus (in 1492 when he sailed the ocean blue). The list becomes even more remarkable when you add the remarkable names of Russell Crowe, Billy Ray Cyrus and Jackie Gleason.
Everybody's heard of the Roswell incident of 1947 and the amazing Phoenix Lights of 1997. Both still capture our imagination, because neither has ever been adequately explained. The biggest Keystone State sighting happened at Kecksburg in Westmoreland County on Dec. 9, 1965. There's been a lot of speculation about that one, including a rather bizarre theory about a connection to the Nazis.
In the 1950s and 1960s, we were treated to an amazing number of first-person accounts from folks, usually from rural areas, who claimed they were abducted by aliens and forced to engage in outer space sex. Were these people recounting actual memories or did they merely have vivid imaginations?
Sure, most UFO sightings do have rational explanations. Some that can't be explained are most likely the result of top-secret government projects that, although probably sinister, have nothing to do with anything "outworldly." Until a visitor from the Andromeda Galaxy walks down Independence Street, it's impossible to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life. But those who insist there is no such thing as intelligent life elsewhere will never be able to prove that either because there is no human being who has been everywhere in the universe.
If we have been visited, why haven't the visitors revealed themselves to the general population? Some believe this has already happened; they speculate that ancient astronauts arrived and influenced primitive cultures. Or maybe we just aren't ready yet, as illustrated in the film classic "Star Trek: First Contact," which recounted how the Vulcans only introduced themselves to earthlings when Zefram Cochrane invented warp drive, the amazing innovation that allowed future Starship Enterprises to travel faster than light speed.
Some folks fear that definitive knowledge that life exists on other planets will shatter our religious systems. If that's all it takes, clearly our faith was not all that strong to begin with. Interestingly, astronomers at the Vatican Observatory are among those who are open to the possibility of life elsewhere; they are among the scientists who are actively involved in the search.
We humans need to get over ourselves. God created the universe, and we can't begin to fathom the depth of that creation. Who is to say that other beings do not exist elsewhere who are just as much a part of God's awesome plan?
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)