Original publish date: Sunday, March 2, 2003
by Colleen Lent
The death of longtime Seacoast resident Norman Muscarello, 55, this past week undoubtedly rekindled discussions of his UFO sighting on Sept. 3, 1965, which made national headlines. One can almost hear excerpts of conversations around the dinner table or coffee shop counter.
"Isnít he the kid who was chased by the space ship down by Diningís Farm?" or "There was a book about him by some reporter" or "Muscarello is the ĎClose Encountersí guy."
The account of Normanís teen-age real-life experience was akin to a scene from a Steven Spielberg or George Lucas film. It soon became fodder for several articles by John G. Fuller, appearing in Readerís Digest, Look and True, before it was developed into the book "Incident at Exeter" by the same author.
Though Norman is best known in the Granite State as the extraterrestrial guy, his younger brother Thomas Muscarello of Exeter remembers him as an ordinary guy who did extraordinary things to help his mother and siblings during challenging times.
While juggling funeral arrangements and the management of his business, Auto Details in Exeter, this past week, Thomas took some time to talk about his brother, recalling vignettes of his life dating back to his adolescent years, the infamous UFO sighting, and three tours in Vietnam. Providing details of past events, some dating back more than 40 years, wasnít easy for Thomas. However, the essence of his brotherís character is something Thomas said heíll never forget.
In the 1950s, Delores Ann (Walker) Muscarello, a single mother of three children, found herself scrambling for a means to provide for her family. It was during a time when a divorced working woman didnít fit the cultural norm.
"My mom did as much as she could," Thomas said. However, the money she earned from cleaning houses wasnít enough to pay for even the basics on Maslowís hierarchy of needs - food, shelter and clothing.
"It was kind of tough for us," Thomas said.
(L to R) Muscarello, David Hunt, Eugene Bertrand, & dispatcher "Scratch" Toland.
Thus, at the age of 10 or 11, Norman started a paper route, making the rounds on foot before going to school each day. The pre-teen gave his earnings to his mother. Thomas said this act of responsibility was incredible in itself.
However, the fact that Norman actually started his winter days at 3 a.m. to load the furnace with coal, ensuring his mother and siblings were warm when they woke, was even more remarkable.
"Itís like he stood up and said, ĎThis family is going to make it,í" Thomas said.
The family of four did make it, despite the fact that testing the elasticity of a dollar was as routine as brushing oneís teeth.
"But we were happy," Thomas said.
After all, some things like a Sunday family stroll to the United Methodist Church on Government Street in Kittery didnít require a dime.
As the family settled into different homes in New Hampshire, listening and imitating instrumental music greats of the time, such as The Ventures, was Normanís favorite pastime. Normanís affinity for chords and keys sprouted during his adolescent days.
Thomas said the only time Norman used any of his paper route earnings for a personal expense was when he signed up for guitar lessons. After a mere six classes, Norman started teaching others to play and eventually formed the Rippers, a Winnacunnet High School band, playing at school dances and town events.
"There was a time youíd think he was Chet Atkins," Thomas said. "His fingers used to bleed."
When Norman became engaged as a teen-ager, Thomas and his mother wrote to The Ventures asking the group for a small personalized token to give Norman as a wedding present.
"We really didnít expect any response," Thomas said.
But, the band replied with a congratulatory telegram - something Norman treasured his entire life, despite the fact that his fiancťe cozied up to another guy the day before Norman left for service in the Navy.
Perhaps Normanís voluntary enlistment in the service stemmed from his years as a member of the Boy Scouts of America, alongside Thomas. Earning the Order of Arrow honor from the BSA wasnít an easy feat, according to Normanís sibling. Thomas recalled Norman emerging from a rigorous weekend survival test without a mental or physical scratch.
"That followed in his service record," Thomas said.
As 18-year-old Norman was preparing for boot camp in the fall of 1965, he sold his car and was hitchhiking to his Exeter home from a friendís house. As he was ambling along Route 150 in Kensington at about 2 a.m., he noticed pulsating lights from a UFO, which moved toward him and then disappeared without warning.
As the teen-ager ran, stumbling along the way, the UFO reappeared, casting a red glow on a neighboring house. Norman pounded on the homeís door, to no avail, before running back to the street to hail an approaching motorist to take him to the Exeter Police Station.
Upon sharing his story with dispatcher Scratch Toland, Norman quickly learned that similar sightings had been called in from Hampton Beach and Raymond.
"It wasnít anything to do with alcohol or drugs," Thomas said, recalling his brotherís story.
As Eugene Bertrand, an officer on duty at the time, accompanied Norman to the site, a second officer - David Hunt - pulled up in a cruiser to inquire about the commotion, and followed them.
"Reality was, this was witnessed by two policemen," Thomas said, explaining that the UFO appeared for a third time.
Nevertheless, Thomas said his brother was showered with heckles and snickers from passers-by after the incident made news headlines across the country.
"There were a lot of skeptical people out there and thatís understandable," said Thomas.
There were some individuals who werenít guffawing. Thomas said he doesnít remember his brother being interviewed by officials, one with a metal case handcuffed to his wrist, from Pease Air Force Base immediately after the experience, as some print accounts state.
However, the younger Muscarello does recall a stern officer from Pease knocking on the door and then offering Thomas and his sister Theresa 50 cents and instructing them to run to the store next door. Meanwhile, the unidentified man, armed with "Project Blue Book," took notes as he questioned their mother about her eldest sonís experience. Norman was in Michigan, preparing for training as a naval officer.
"They were very, very upset with what happened," Thomas said. The barrage of phone calls from curious neighbors, reporters and researchers began shortly after.
Thomas remembers waking up one evening to see a camera crew outside the familyís Front Street home in Exeter.
"Nobody would leave my mom alone," he said.
The inquiring entourage followed Norman to the Midwest where he was bunking for basic training. As the number of unauthorized personnel armed with cameras and microphones was beginning to compete with the number of soldiers at the military training site, Norman was told to shed the uninvited guests immediately.
"They threatened to kick him out," Thomas said.
In an attempt to get rid of the media and researchers, Norman signed a host of waivers, not understanding the legal jargon in fine print, which would allow his story to be told and retold without any of the profits reaching him or his family.
"He didnít receive a penny," Thomas said. "They took advantage of him."
The curious went away and Norman climbed aboard the USS Boston, which would be the start of three tours of Vietnam from 1965 to 1969.
Finances were tighter than ever for the Muscarello family back home. Thomas remembers the familyís 1963 Mercury sitting in the yard unregistered, thirsty for a gallon of gas and hungry for a driver and passengers. There wasnít enough money for insurance to put the car on the road. But when Norman returned home on leave one day, he resolved the situation, and the family didnít have to lug groceries home on foot anymore.
And then Norman was gone again. While he and his mother exchanged letters back and forth, ink on paper didnít have the warmth of an embrace or comfort of a smile.
"It wasnít like he was in another part of the country on vacation," Thomas said with the kind of solemnity that communicates the unspoken reality of the situation.
Norman did return from his first tour as a welder and gunnerís mate, only to sign up for a second. However, Thomas said his brotherís volunteering for a second round wasnít for an affinity for the vibration of mortar fire or the ever-present uncertainty of the next day. Thomas said Norman made the sacrifice to save his brother from being drafted.
"ĎWe should not be in there at the same time,í" Thomas repeated his brotherís words to the enlistment officer. "They donít want to see family names wiped out," Thomas said. "It kind of aggravated me. It was my turn. Then again, I understand why he did it."
After the second tour, Norman longed for the routine of civilian life in Exeter. But the Navy didnít release him from duty and he served a third tour of Vietnam.
After his final honorable discharge, Norman returned home without much fanfare. In 1980, he shared his 1965 UFO story with Exeter High School students writing for the schoolís newspaper.
But for the most part, Norman led a quiet life, according to his brother. He was an officer with American Legion Post. No. 32 of Exeter and 27-year companion to Theresa Lockhart of Exeter, a former co-worker at Alrose Shoe Co.
Thomas could count on a Thanksgiving feast, prepared by Norman who often donned his Julia Child cap, much like his father Angelo Muscarello, and often kicked everyone out of the kitchen.
"That was his territory and it was off limits," Thomas said. "He made a mean spaghetti sauce."
Yet, Thomas noticed something was missing in his siblingís spirit. Norman rarely picked up the guitar or listened to an album. He didnít aggressively seek another job when the Alrose Shoe Co went defunct.
"He wasnít quite the same person after Vietnam," Thomas said.
Perhaps those sipping coffee or beer and discussing Norman Muscarello today will speculate and attribute his change to his teen-age close encounter.
But for Thomas Muscarello, there is no guessing his brotherís character: Norman Muscarello was an exceptional brother, son and veteran, he said.
"He always took care of me."
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