Published: 6:49 AM 7/20/2014
The only time Jan C. Harzan saw an unidentified flying object up close, he became a believer.
It was 1965, and he was a 10-year-old in his bedroom in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
"My brother came in and let me know he had observed this craft hovering 10 feet off the ground," right there in their backyard.
When Harzan went out there, he said, "I saw a landing craft 30 feet from me." It had "no visible means of propulsion, except for a humming noise it was making."
After about five minutes, Harzan said, "it slowly started to drift away and then shot off at an incredible speed."
No alien sightings.
Harzan spoke as he walked through the corridors of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill late Friday, where the Mutual UFO Network was holding its 45th annual symposium this weekend.
UFOs are now the life work for Harzan, 59, executive director at the Newport Beach, Calif., headquarters of the international organization of more than 3,000 dues-paying members.
He estimated that 600 to 700 folks would show up before the four-day event ends Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday morning, a few hundred were there to hear John Ventre, 57, of Greensburg, near Pittsburgh, a retired state security director for a package delivery company who is Pennsylvania director for the UFO Network.
It was Ventre who decided that the focus of the weekend should be the media and UFOs.
In his interview, Harzan said that the group needs to find "how we can better educate the media about the UFO subject. I think they don't have a lot of knowledge about it.
"And so they treat it with some skepticism, which is fine, and some laugh factor.
"So we feel that it has extreme scientific value and, with some study, could yield major benefits or technological breakthroughs."
Ventre was sharper in his criticism of reporting about UFOs.
The nationwide reaction to Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds began the media refusal to report about UFOs, he said.
"Will they tell you the truth about UFOs if they're afraid it's going to cause a panic?" Ventre asked.
In a Saturday interview before his talk, he said he had never seen a UFO.
"I thought I did in 2008," near his Greensburg home, he said. "When I analyzed it, it turned out to be an asteroid."
That's typical, he said, because "not every sighting is a UFO. Probably only 10 percent."
That has not slowed his writing career. At noon, he was signing copies of his 2012 work, UFOs Over Pennsylvania.
The speaker before Ventre did have his own close encounter.
Roger Marsh, a 1978 graduate of St. Bonaventure University who was acquisitions editor for investing and finance books for the Chicago office of the McGraw-Hill publishing firm from 1997 to 1999, is now communications director for the UFO Network.
Near his home in southwest Pennsylvania in October 1973, Marsh told his audience, a UFO about the width of a two-lane road hovered above his street, a foot or two higher than a telephone pole.
"It went from a dead stop," he said, to zipping away "like a bat out of hell."
Asking his audience, "Why can't we get UFO photographs?" he admitted he was so startled that, "if I had had a cellphone, I would have dropped it."
Photos or no photos, he assured his audience, "everywhere I go, there's a UFO story."