Legend of Gulf Breeze: UFOs in Northwest Florida
By JENNIE MCKEON | Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach | Published: October 8, 2016
FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Bob Reid saw a lot of flying objects during his career in the U.S. Air Force.
But there were a few that were ... unidentifiable.
“I believe,” he said. “It’s just a part of my reality. It’s something I’ve always lived with.”
In Northwest Florida, there have been all kind of reports of questionable sightings, most famously in Gulf Breeze.
For decades, people have been trying almost in vain to explain the inexplicable. Reid says it’s almost not even worth trying.
“All you really have is your curiosity,” he said. “It’s like a knotted up ball of yarn. It’s unending. You’ll never get to the bottom of it.”
Still, people continue to question.
Trippy lights and space junk
Daily News stories of unexplainable sightings go decades back in time. In 1973, Eglin Air Force Base Field 3 radar unit tracked a UFO over Interstate 10.
About 10 to 15 people observed the four “strange objects” flying in formation between Milton and Crestview Oct. 17, 1973. No one was able to explain the phenomenon. There were about half a dozen reported sightings in the tri-county area from 1973-1976.
In the 1980s, UFO researcher Don Ware was looking around the Panhandle to assemble an investigative team to track UFO sightings. As the section director for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) at the time, he had little time to track down the sightings himself, he said, although he did record a sighting from a Panama City captain who saw two lights traveling parallel to the Gulf in the Matagorda Pass.
In a 1998 Daily News article, a number of locals remember their UFO experiences. One Fort Walton Beach man spotted a UFO in his yard around 1997 — a black, round object hanging motionlessly in the sky over his front yard. He looked away for one second and it disappeared.
In the 2000s, the area was host to paranormal conferences that discussed everything from UFOs to ghosts and even Bigfoot. Journeys Beyond, which was held Oct. 20 through Oct. 22 on Okaloosa Island, covered Christianity and UFOs, and discussed topics such as how to stop an abduction. The website doesn’t appear to have been updated after 2000.
In 2011, a mom and daughter in Shalimar told the Daily News about “orangish lights hovering in the sky.”
“It was trippy,” said the daughter, Makenna Foster.
“My guess would be aliens,” added her mother, Donna, who worked for the U.S. Army’s Missile Command.
The latest sighting reported to the Daily News was in 2014, when a Navarre Beach resident, Trisha James, took photos of a fiery orb in the sky on Friday the 13th. Hurlburt Field officials could not identify the object in the photos and reported there was no base activity going on at the time of the photo.
“When I uploaded the photographs, I could not see an aircraft. It was just a ball of fire,” James said at the time. “I thought, ‘Did I just catch a meteor? Is it space junk? A UFO?’ ”
The legend of Gulf Breeze
Reid’s first UFO sighting was when he was just 10 and living in central Tennessee.
“It was around 1947 ... around the time of the Roswell Files,” he said. “I wanted to see a UFO and so my brother and I laid down on the ground one night to look. We both saw a light zig-zagging around and it went away.”
He’d have several more sightings in his adult life, most notably with his friend Ed Walters in Gulf Breeze.
Nov. 11, 1987 is the infamous date of Walters' first sighting. He reported more than 100 sightings and abductions over the course of a six-year period in the late '80s and early '90s. Reid said he had similar experiences over at Shoreline Park with and without Walters.
“I had no reason not to trust him,” he said.
Reid remembers picking up Dr. Bruce Maccabee, an optical physicist and UFO researcher, from the airport. Maccabee was convinced he would be able to discredit Walter’s sightings within minutes, Reid said. Instead, he spent 14 hours with Walters and Reid going over their reports. At Shoreline Park, Walters demonstrated how he photographed the flying object using Polaroid cameras.
“The same craft came in,” Reid remembered. “It was a bright red light that would be there for awhile.”
Reports that a UFO model constructed from paper and paper plates was discovered in Walters’ home after he moved out convinced a number of people that it was all a hoax.
“A lot of people believed it was a hoax, because it’s easier to disbelieve than to disrupt your reality,” Reid said.
Walters and Reid have since drifted apart. Walters moved to Pensacola and does not talk to the media.
Gulf Breeze gained notoriety for the sightings. According to a Daily News article from February 2000, believers hosted the 52nd Annual Alien Picnic in the city, which celebrates the Air Force investigating extraterrestrial vehicles.
“Earthling organizers report confidently in a press release issued to the Daily News that contact will be made,” the story stated.
The end of UFOs?
Steve Milford, financial director at the City of Gulf Breeze, just laughs at the mention of UFOs.
“We’ve never tried to foster it (UFO sightings),” he said. “We’re open and accepting of all beliefs ... we don’t want to step on dreams, but the city doesn’t take a stance on it.”
Milford has been with the city for more than 10 years and says they haven’t received any curious calls about UFOs past or present.
Reid said he hasn’t had any sightings in recent years. And he hasn’t been back to Shoreline Park.
“I haven’t been focused on it,” he said. “I don’t think much is going on.”
Reid said he believes there’s a possibility that extraterrestrials were making contact to prevent nuclear detonations, more specifically to prevent humans from self-destruction.
Nowadays, he’s into forestry and planting long leaf pines.
But he doesn’t mind sharing his stories about the galaxy far, far away.
“I don’t really care what people think at my stage in life,” he said. “As big as the universe is, there’s got to be more.”
©2016 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
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