GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jack Bushong was sure he was going to lose his job.
It was the night of March 8, 1994. Working at the National Weather Service, Bushong’s radar was lighting up with stuff he’d never seen before.
He was on the phone with an Ottawa County emergency dispatcher who was looking for help identifying lights in the sky over Holland. The dispatcher was getting a lot of calls. Police officers were calling in, too.
When Bushong found out his phone call had been recorded, Bushong said he was “really scared” and lost sleep over it. He fretted about what people were going to say about what he was seeing on his screen.
“Just that people think you’re a kook,” he said, or that “you’re lying, you’re not credible. I’m supposed to be a scientist and skeptical.”
Bushong was seeing images on his radar that corresponded to what people were calling in from the ground. He had to control his radar by hand to zero in on the sky south of his station in Muskegon.
“Oh my God, what is that?” the recorded dispatch call captured him saying in a startled voice once he had zeroed in.
He said he went through his mental checklist about all the weather phenomena and technical glitches he knew about and what he was seeing didn’t fit any of them.
He saw what appeared to be solid objects “coming together and coming apart.”
“Moving about 20 miles in each jump,” he recalled. “They were hovering, then jumping. Hovering and jumping.”
After watching them for a while, they appeared to be forming a wide triangle that moved out over Lake Michigan. He said they looked solid.
“It was a flying tin can,” he said.
Despite his worry about losing his job, Bushong went on to a promotion, a move to a bigger weather station, a forecasting award and eventual retirement. He said the NWS treated him well even though some individuals criticized him and dismissed what he saw. So he clammed up about it.
“I kept my mouth shut and I learned that pretty quickly,” he said.
He wasn’t the only one. There has been considerable national reporting about pilots and other credible-seeming people deciding it’s better to keep quiet about such sightings. The long-time government approach may have contributed to that: It dismissed UFO sightings as common stuff people just weren’t seeing right.
After a number of sightings in Michigan in the 1960s, then-U.S. Rep. Gerald R. Ford of Grand Rapids wrote a letter calling for congressional investigations and demanding the government stop “misleading the public.”
It took more than 50 years and efforts by later members of Congress who demanded the intelligence community produce a report and make it public.
That happened this summer. In the report, the government admits that people have seen things that nobody can explain. It even released video by U.S. military pilots.
For Bushong, the release of the report was like ringing a bell. It got him talking again.
“It has everything to do with it,” he said.
He’s now thinking about writing a scientific paper about what he saw on the lakeshore in ’94.
He said what he saw on radar looks a lot like what military pilots have reported seeing.
“I guess I’ve been waiting for this vindication,” he said, “which I didn’t think I was going to get all my life.”
He was going to just let what he saw die out.
“But now with the, basically, military coming out and saying the same thing I saw 30 years ago, I can finally say to people, ‘I told you so,'” Bushong said.
The 1994 sighting had lasting impact on others who saw it. Among them Holly Graves and her family. They were among the 911 callers watching slowly rotating lights from their front yard.
“It was like Christmas lights,” she recalled.
The incident on the lakeshore got a lot of media attention. Graves said some people were interested in what she saw but others were hurtful. She kept her kids out of school for a while.
“They just went through a really hard time,” she said. “They know what they saw but it’s like everybody still laughed at you.”
People forget that the ‘U’ in UFO stands for unidentified, meaning nobody knows what the phenomena are. That’s never stopped people from speculating. Sometimes they choose sides and even get nasty.
“They accused us of being in the backyard smoking weed, doing drugs with our kids,” Graves said.
Her now-adult children don’t want to talk about the sighting. It’s different for Graves.
“I’m glad my family got to see it,” she said. “I really am. It’s like once in a lifetime.
“It’s an experience I’ll take to my grave with me.”
Nearly 30 years later, it still moves her.
“I wish everybody’d see it,” she said. “I do. I wish everybody would see it because it was the experience of a lifetime.”