My cousin Andy Koplen invited three of us to join him on his parent’s fishing boat at Smith Mountain Lake. That Lake had been manmade, part of a hydro-electric project not far from Roanoke, VA.
Much like our other fishing expeditions, we drove to the house that belonged to Andy’s folks. Their boat was tied to the dock by the cove at the bottom of their yard. For an hour and a half, until dark, four of us trolled the Lake then returned the boat to the dock.
While the other three feasted on snacks at the dining room table, I stood on the balcony that dark and clear October night to watch the sky and stars. Without turning around, I could reach the sliding glass door directly behind me; it opened to the dining room, three feet from its table.
Their chatter didn’t distract me as I studied the horizon because I noticed something I couldn’t explain. There was a dot of red light too high in the sky to be a Roanoke, VA street light forty miles away, but it was too low to be a star. For quite a while, I stared, looking for movement.
Finally, it moved. Only for a moment, the dot seemed to quiver.
But, in the next instant, quicker than I could snap my fingers, the craft appeared. It hadn’t made a sound; it stopped, sat still, about 75 feet in the air, about 150 feet from where I stood.
I was afraid, terrified by what I was seeing. At first, I froze. Then, knowing I had to tell the others, I opened the glass door. “You’ve gotta see this!” I yelled.
They hurried to the balcony, barely big enough for the four of us. For a few minutes, all of us stared at the saucer. I wasn’t the only one who wondered whether it was staring back at us.
Then, without a sound, it zipped up at a sharp angle, then zipped back in the opposite direction. Almost instantly, it was at full speed; it disappeared.
As the other three headed back inside, I asked my cousin whether his dad had any binoculars.
“Sure,” he said. Moments later, he handed me his dad’s Zeiss binoculars.
All three returned to the table; I returned to my post. If the craft came back, I would be ready. I tried not to be afraid; I convinced myself that the UFO might have had friendly intentions.
Shaped somewhat like an overturned cup on top of a saucer, the round saucer part seemed to have a diameter of about fifty feet. It appeared to be 20-25 feet tall.
Amazing to me, about five minutes later, it returned to the same spot and in the same way, without a sound! Raising the binoculars, I focused entirely on one of the rectangular windows, then ringed the top of the saucer. The windows were alternating red then white in color.
The craft was so close I was able to see that the light radiating from each window was opaque, so intense and dense that I could not see into the craft. Once again, I opened the door behind me.
“Hurry, guys!” I shouted. I wasn’t afraid as I’d been the first time.
We passed around the binoculars. Like me, they were fascinated. For the rest of the time, we were there and during our ride home; we didn’t talk much. It seemed that none of us knew what to say.
Other than my cousin, the other two men never contacted me to talk about the sighting. Occasionally, I returned to the cottage, hoping the saucer would return. It never did.
Although I tried to tell others about the saucer, most scoffed. Only my cousin and I talked about it. But the other two didn’t. That’s what I thought, but I couldn’t be sure because one of them was Gerald, a young man I didn’t know who was my cousin’s friend. For years after our sighting, he and I never saw each other.
Ten years later, after our very close encounter, I married and, eventually, told my wife. But she didn’t believe me, although I begged her to; she thought I was crazy.
That ended one night about five years later when she insisted that we go to a party. Because I didn’t think I’d know anyone there, I reluctantly agreed to join her at a huge backyard barbecue.
As soon as we entered the backyard, I spotted Gerald. He didn’t notice me; I hadn’t seen him since the night of our sighting.
Immediately, I pointed him out to my wife, told her he had seen the UFO with me. “If you don’t believe me,” I said, “ask him.” She was willing, so I hid in a spot where Gerald couldn’t see me.
She was gone for more than twenty minutes.
When she returned to my hiding place, she was uncommonly quiet until I asked whether Gerald had told her the same story I’d been telling her.
She looked up at me and said only one word. That word was “Verbatim,” as in word-for-word.
Years later, a young woman came in to my store. I recalled that my cousin had mentioned she was Gerald’s wife. But I wanted to be sure.
“Aren’t you married to Gerald?” I asked.
She looked at me, surprised by my question. “We were married,” she answered. “But we divorced a few years ago.”
Because that didn’t seem to upset her, I asked whether he ever talked to her about the UFO.
She laughed, then said, “That’s all he ever talked about!”
Years after that, while I was teaching at our community college, I decided to find Gerald to ask him whether he would tell my class about what we saw that night at the lake. Since he had told his former wife and mine, I assumed he wouldn’t mind doing that.
It took me almost a week to locate his phone number.
When I called him to ask whether he would speak to my class, he stopped talking. I waited for him to answer. But he didn’t. Finally, I interrupted the silence and asked him to just think about it. He responded in a shaky voice. He sounded scared.
“I will,” he said, sounding barely audible.
That was years ago. I’m still waiting for him to call.
However, I spoke to Stanton Friedman days after our sighting, one of America’s top UFO researchers. For many years, he has been one of the featured speakers at the annual UFO Conference in Roswell.
After we’d talked for forty minutes, he told me that, of all the credible UFO stories he had heard, my story ranked in the top ½ of 1%! In time, I realized why.
A few may have seen such a craft as close as we did, but no one had seen it coming from outer space!
Despite having had that unique experience, I didn’t feel compelled to write a book about it until two things happened. Unusual as they were, those two things took a while.
The first had to do with my brother. Because my brother and I were very close, his opinion mattered to me, especially because I’d grown weary of friends doubting me. At times, I felt an urge to give up trying to share my story.
That’s why I spoke to my brother who lived in Colorado; I knew he would be understanding and supportive.
However, when I told him, I was both surprised and saddened when he said, “That’s a great story, but I don’t think you saw a flying saucer.”
I wanted to scream a question at him. “Why would I make up such a story?” But, in a quieter, more controlled voice, that’s what I asked him. I felt that the one person on the planet who I could rely on to share my difficult truth would be him. After all, I knew what it felt like to be afraid to tell my story. At first, it was difficult; people might think I was crazy.
And what might happen if the dean of my college was upset because I used my story in my classroom? I didn’t know whether I might be fired because of that.
But I thought my brother would understand how difficult it was and how important it was for him to be my confidante.
That’s why I waited to write the book until AFTER I had taken a lie detector test, a real lie detector test. To do that, I hired the best person I could find. He was the same man who the state of North Carolina trusted to test people accused of murder to determine whether they were telling the truth about what they did or didn’t do.
Although I’d heard I could fool one of those tests, I quickly realized that was a myth. When he strapped me into a chair and hooked up a series of electrodes to various parts of my body, I couldn’t move. Being seated like that was grueling and painful. I couldn’t even squirm and could only answer questions he asked. Otherwise, I couldn’t talk. Sitting in his hardback chair was so uncomfortable that I wanted to stop when we were half through.
But I couldn’t. Not only had I paid dearly for the test, but I also wanted to include the results in the book I would write; I gritted my teeth and endured.
But I will never do a lie detector test again.
As for the results, they are in my book titled Why Won’t They Believe Me? Four of us saw the saucer! Twice! [The updated version is titled Close Encounter at Smith Mountain Lake, VA]
But there was one other thing that had to happen before I wrote my book. That ‘other thing’ was this: I had to visit the UFO Museum in Roswell. I wanted to go there and tell them my story. If they liked it, I figured they might want me to present my story to their annual conference.
I went. And I told them my story. Then they asked me one question.
“Have you written a book about it?”
Although that was certain to be a lengthy process, I told them I would. When I returned home, I wrote the book, had it published, and contacted them.
“We need to read it first,” they told me, “and then we’ll let you know.”
The next day, I sent a copy to them.
Almost six months later, I received a notice from them. I knew I couldn’t guess what it said.
That’s why I read their note very slowly and very carefully.
They wanted to buy twelve copies of my book for their gift shop! My story had made it to the UFO Museum!