HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — For the first time in 43 years, the memorial to the victims of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash was staged in Huntington and the Thundering Herd football team was not there.
“In that sense, 43 years later, we stand in awe of what has happened and what has followed,” said Marshall University President Stephen Kopp. “And the great strength we have shown as a university and as a community.”
Marshall’s team watched the ceremony via web stream in Tulsa, Okla., where they are playing the University of Tulsa on Thursday night.
Kopp’s remarks on a sunny day on the Huntington campus were symbolically marked by a gentle breeze which caused autumn leaves to drop around him. The falling leaves were unintended, but appropriate imagery for such a day. The president told the gathering it was a sad day to remember what was loss, but the ceremony was also a reminder of how far everyone connected to the tragedy had come.
“We chose to pick up the pieces, both individually and collectively, and find a way to not only go on with our lives, but to rise,” Kopp said.
This year’s keynote speaker for the ceremony was John Proctor, who lost his parents H.D. and Courtney Proctor in the crash. Proctor, who was only 5 at the time of the crash, wasn’t old enough to remember much about the terrible accident and its aftermath. However, he considered himself fortunate to have transitioned into a unique upbringing from tragic circumstances.
“I was raised by a community,” he said. “I was raised by Huntington, W.Va., and Marshall University.”
Proctor said he’s often asked whether the annual ceremony should be discontinued or perhaps staged every five years or 10 years. He said emphatically it should not.
“Even though we come to remember the tragedy that happened 43 years ago,” Proctor spoke. “This community and this college was able to rise and step forward, because life’s hard.”
The ceremony ended as it always has with the noticeable silence of the water to the Memorial Fountain shutting off for the winter and the reading of the names of the 75 victims.