As a recipient of letters from Senator Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s, I can assure one and all that he did not harbor an intensive public interest in UFOs, a bit of fiction helped along by a phony letter with RFK's signature which continues to make Internet rounds.
But then there was Arizona's Senator Barry Goldwater, a Republican who might have become President in 1964 if not for the endeavors of an opposition successfully and absurdly depicting him as a madman whose efforts would result in a nuclear holocaust. I felt an immense respect for Goldwater, particularly because he wasn't afraid to speak his mind (for example, many among his congressional colleagues and military personnel went spastic with outrage in later years when he suggested that openly allowing homosexuals in the Armed Services is no big deal) and didn't walk the politically correct tightrope which concerns so many public servants anymore. I'm not saying I wanted him to nuke the world, but at least he would have been forthright enough to announce on TV, folks, tomorrow morning at 8:00 sharp I'm blowing up the world, and that's how it's gonna be. You just have to respect that refreshing, take-charge attitude.
Many "pro" statements about UFOs made by this late senator happen to be true. We printed one of his letters about the subject a few months ago (put his name in the on-site search engine above and that entry should pop up), and it's hardly the only one out there.
Back in the sixties and seventies, when UFOs were hot stuff and the national media stayed awake and alert, throbbing with a palpable pulse, notable events sometimes happened or were reported about almost simultaneously. During the first two weeks of November, 1973, Senator -- and retired Air Force Reserve Brigadier General -- Goldwater told students during a speech at Washington State College that UFOs are real. According to an Associated Press story that echoed throughout the nation, seasoned pilot Goldwater stated, "I've been flying for 44 years, and I'm the last guy that's going to say I don't believe they're up there." Asked about UFOs during the question-and-answer session, Goldwater replied, "I've never seen one. But when Air Force pilots, Navy pilots and airline pilots tell me they see something come up on their wing that wasn't an airplane, I have to believe them."
However, the ink regarding Goldwater had barely dried on newspapers from coast to coast before the AP coughed up another gem, the bizarre story from Canada of an Ottawa family pursued by a UFO sometime during the same week when Barry Goldwater gifted the U.S. with his insight. These were the days, mind you, when UFOs not only tended to take the high road, they also took the roads less traveled during darkness, and on this evening occasion an object with flashing white lights was reported to have chased a family's truck along Highway 417 at speeds up to 100 miles an hour.
"I noticed these bright lights in my side-view mirror, claimed Rick Bouchard, 25, driving with his wife and three small children aboard. According to his account, the object seemed to be about 10 feet wide and even at speeds up to 100 miles per hour the UFO approached within 15 feet of the truck and hovered about four feet above the road.
"The children were petrified," said Bouchard's wife, Donna. The UFO finally disappeared behind trees and police were notified.
Adding to the mystery, a family friend returned to that stretch of highway later in the evening to investigate and reported pursuit by a similar object. Ron Hamelin, a 19-year-old who knew and worked with Rick Bouchard, said when he turned off his lights the object disappeared. "I know what I saw," Hamelin insisted. "If people don't believe me, that's tough."
Enter The National Enquirer. Though a significant percentage of almost any population would roll their eyes and bemoan the Enquirer's long reputation as a sensational tabloid, some of us know a not so secret secret -- that the Enquirer of particularly the seventies and eighties offered a wealth of well-researched reports on UFO activity. This I learned personally, when the publication dispatched one, and eventually a second reporter to Central NY to investigate some major UFO activity, and I had an opportunity to watch them hard at work, practicing honest-to-goodness journalism (for more, type National Enquirer in the search engine above).
So UFO sightings and close encounter reports became nearly as commonplace as moths near a flame in 1973, all in the absence of the Air Force's long-dismantled Project Blue Book, and despite the subject's presumed banishment from common sense via the non-science performed by Dr. Edward Condon and his merry debunkers at the University of Colorado.
The thing was, however, watchdogs at The Enquirer had not neglected Barry Goldwater's November surprise, and when the January 6, 1974 edition of the tabloid hit national newsstands, grocery stores and pharmacies, Senator Goldwater returned with a vengeance: "I Believe Earth Has Been Visited By Creatures From Outer Space," screamed the quote above the Enquirer's exclusive interview with the senator. "I'm not convinced," Goldwater told reporter Allan A. Zullo, "after having been around for 65 years, that human beings are the smartest creatures in the universe. . .They may not look or talk like us, but I have very strong feelings they have advanced past our mental capabilities."
Admitting to cases where military and commercial pilots revealed to him instances where UFOs approached them and then would "just zoom away at incredible speeds," Goldwater regretted his inability to examine UFO research files at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. "I asked Gen. Curtis LeMay, who for years was head of the Strategic Air Command, for permission to check into the files and he told me: 'Hell no, and don't ask me again.' I think some highly secret government UFO investigations are going on that we don't know about -- and probably never will unless the Air Force discloses them.
"But someday soon," advised Goldwater, "someone's going to have strong UFO evidence that can't be explained away."
And so we wait. Meanwhile, Sen. Goldwater, Richard Hall, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Dr. John Mack, Dr. James McDonald and a host of others who explored pathways to the unknown are gone. Too bad that the passage of time can't confine itself to the face of a clock and not intrude upon our brief flirtations with life and curiosity.
(Thanks to playwright Ed Graczyk for naming his play -- eventually a movie -- "Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," which I knew of but never saw, and went bonkers over when I needed a title for today's entry.)