By Tom Hawthorn
The Province [Vancouver, B.C.]
June 23, 1991
TACOMA, Wash. - Space aliens work in mysterious ways.
They kidnap people and tinker with their brains but they won't appear on Donahue.
So when ordinary people meet to share their extraordinary tales of close encounters with extra-terrestrials, no story is too far- fetched.
"On Nov. 26, 1969," says Edward Palmer, 85, a retired psychiatrist, "I was picked up by a UFO and taken to the moon. A lot of people live inside it."
In a stuffy motel with a Robin Hood theme, 38 space cadets worked themselves into a state of UFOria this weekend at the New Dawn Foundation's 30th annual space-age conference.
Their motto: "Keep looking up."
The gathering is held in late June to mark the anniversary of pilot Kenneth Arnold's sighting of nine crescent-shaped craft near Mount Rainier in 1947.
Saucer talkers came from as far as Brookfield, Mass., to speak on such topics as "The biblical prophets as UFO contactees."
Delegates offered testimonials over the crooning of a nearby lounge singer and the roar of transport planes landing at McChord Air Force Base.
They have heard all the explanations - satellites, weather balloons, swamp gas - and they don't believe a one. They have also heard all the insults, the most polite being that they are merely eccentric.
"You've got to have a sense of humor or you'll never make it," says Lela Maxwell, a Tacoma poet.
If space beings of superior intelligence do exist, they have chosen rather unremarkable humans as their emissaries.
The New Dawn conferences are the brainchild of Wayne Aho, 74, known locally as Mr. UFO.
Aho, who is a regular guest on radio talk shows, always asks: "Caller, what planet are you from?"
After years of ridicule, Aho believes his people's time has come.
"Not long ago President Bush said, 'The world is entering a new dawn,' " he told delegates. "He used the very words we have on our brochure."
One of seven children born to a family of Finnish homesteaders, Aho is a retired logger and army major. He has been on a mission since the day he saw a flying saucer in the Mojave desert in 1957.
As well, he hears voices not unlike those heeded by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Aho bought a field near Mount Rainier for use as a flying saucer landing pad.
With his icy blue eyes, suspenders and string tie, Aho has a folksy, Reagan-like patter as he delivers his tale of past lives and cosmic consciousness.
He has become accustomed to the skepticism of doubting Thomases.
"I'm not afraid to tell the story, even though some say, 'weird, weird, weird,' " he said.
Aho's current mission is to find a college where he can teach a course he would call UFO 101.
As a text, he would use the Bible, which he calls the best flying saucer book in the world.
"It's got UFOs from cover to cover," he says.
Despite their own faith, UFO buffs say powerful forces are suppressing the truth about space aliens.
"The UFO is the biggest coverup ever, bigger even than Watergate," says Paul Dickey of Tuscon, Ariz. "Now, I can't prove this, but I believe they killed people to cover this up."
Dickey, 64, insists he was hounded from his job with military intelligence in the 1960s after reporting he had seen a UFO. He believes high government officials have ordered his silence. "President Johnson said, 'Shut that guy Dickey up!' "
In the shadowy world of saucer fanciers, the CIA, the Pentagon, the White House, the National Security Council and the Federal Reserve Bank are all part of a grand conspiracy.
"The key to all this," Dickey said, "is that no UFO has ever been seen refuelling at a gas station."
You mean, the big oil companies run the world?
Dickey looked as if he were speaking to a particularly slow- witted child.
"Everybody knows that," he said.