Dark road, bright light remembered 40 years after UFO incident

Title to damaged car given to the Marshall County Historical Society so it will have a permanent home in the local museum.

Peter Bauer, former dispatcher for the Marshall County Sheriff's Dept., recalls receiving Deputy Val Johnson's report of a UFO sighting 40 years ago in northwest Minnesota during an event at the Marshall County Historical Society Tuesday to commemorate the incident. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

WARREN — The 40th anniversary of the Marshall County UFO Incident drew a standing room-only crowd to the Historical Society’s museum in Warren.

More than 300 people from across Minnesota and North Dakota attended the Marshall County Historical Society’s Tuesday, Aug. 27, commemoration of the Aug. 27, 1979, sighting of a UFO by then Marshall County Deputy Val Johnson.

Johnson was patrolling a Marshall County highway about 20 miles from Warren in the early hours of the morning of Monday, Aug. 27, 1979, when he encountered a bright light that appeared to be too high to be those of a semi-tractor trailer.

Johnson reported to Pete Bauer, then a Marshall County dispatcher that after he drove into the light, which was from 8 to 12 inches in diameter and hovering several feet above the ground, he lost consciousness. When Johnson woke up 30 minutes later, he had burns around his eyes and his patrol car was damaged.

The patrol car had two bent antennas, a smashed headlight, shattered windshield and the clock on the dashboard had stopped for 14 minutes, matching the amount of time Johnson’s watch had stopped. Bauer told the crowd at this week’s event that after Johnson radioed him, he immediately called an ambulance for him. While Johnson waited for the ambulance, Bauer continued to talk to him on the radio.


“He said ‘I don’t know what happened. Something hit me,’” Bauer recalled.

The longer they spoke about the incident, the more rattled Johnson sounded, Bauer said.

After Johnson went to the hospital to be checked by a physician, he came back to the sheriff’s department with patches over both eyes, Bauer said.

Bauer believes Johnson’s account of the event because Johnson was a trustworthy, solid guy who obviously had encountered something that visibly shook him up, Bauer said.

“Those people who would doubt, you can’t doubt this,” he said.

Chris Rutkowski, a Winnipeg science writer who specializes in UFO sightings, told the crowd at the museum that when he was investigating the incident in 1979 everyone he questioned believed Johnson’s recounting of the incident.

“My feeling is that whatever happened is strange and unknown,” Rutkowski said. “If it’s aliens or not is a question.”

For several weeks after the August 1979 UFO incident, people around the world were calling the sheriff’s department to ask about the UFO incident or to tell about their own encounters, Bauer said. Meanwhile, an executive from Ford Motor Co. came to inspect the damage to the patrol car.


“I remember him telling that whatever it was, came through the windshield and came back out again,” Bauer said.

The bronze patrol car, damage still intact, was on display in the center of the Marshall County Historical Society Museum during this week's anniversary program. The car remains the museum’s single largest attraction and draws visitors from across the United States there weekly.

Former Marshall County Sheriff Dennis Brekke deserves recognition for urging the Marshall County commissioners at the time not to have the car repaired after the UFO incident, said Kent Broten, Marshall County Historical Society president.

“He saved it,” Broten said.

This week, the County Commission gave the Historical Society the car title so it will have a permanent home in the museum.

Retired Marshall County Sheriff Dennis Brekke, center, is credited for preserving the patrol car that is now owned by the Marshall County Historical Society and draws visitors from across the United States weekly. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

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