HUNTINGTON, W.Va.— Some say it is time to move on. Some say it has been 43 years and it is time to leave the past in the past. Those who say that obviously have never attended the somber ceremony held each November 14 on the Memorial Student Center Plaza and watched as the memorial fountain is turned off and the 75 sons and daughters of Marshall who died on Southern Airways Flight 932 in 1970 are remembered and honored.
Growing up I knew the story. It was told to me by my uncle. He was a freshman with the Thundering Herd in 1970 and a member of the Young Thundering Herd in 1971. I admit, I did not have a true appreciation for the tragedy. However, over the last several years I’ve come to understand why this is such a revered day and why it should never be forgotten.
I grew up a generation removed from the crash. I wasn’t around in 1970 and only learned of the catastrophe through stories I was told and what I could read. However, that could only tell part of the story. I could not comprehend how the Marshall community was impacted by the crash.
In 2006, the story became real for me as the anticipation built for the release of the movie “We Are… Marshall.” For the first time, Jack Lengyel, Reggie Oliver, Nate Ruffin and others, were not just names associated with the story; they became real people. The movie, along with the documentary “Ashes to Glory,” brought to the story to life. The pain experienced by so many in 1970 was evident and the importance of the resurgence of Marshall football in the late 1980’s and 1990’s took on a new meaning.
The films, especially “We Are… Marshall,” re-introduced my generation to the tragedy, re-energizing the memories of an event that occurred before I was born so they would not just fade away with time.
My reverence for the tragedy grew again in 2010 during an interview with longtime WSAZ-TV anchor Bos Johnson. He was on the front lines of the television coverage of the crash. Listening to him tell his story, I could detect by the sound of his voice that it was still hard to talk about.
At the end of the interview, I asked if he would be attending the fountain ceremony that year. His response was “no.”
In fact, Johnson has never attended the ceremony, nor has he ever counted how many friends he lost that day. It’s simply too difficult for him.
That hit home for me. Even after more than four decades, the memories and the pain of those who lived through the crash are still fresh.
Understanding more deeply what happened that November night has given me new appreciation for the championships of the 1980’s and 1990’s. I know why it is special every time the Thundering Herd takes the field.
Yes, there will be those who tell us we should move on. They will simply never understand.
Marshall alumni talk about their university with a sense of pride and honor that cannot be matched because the tragedy brings us all together. The events of November 14, 1970 are part of our history. They are part of who we are.
We will never forget.