Marshall community remembers the 75, shares hope in annual fountain ceremony

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Sunday marked the 51st anniversary the darkest day in Marshall University history and a day that will forever be in the hearts of anyone associated with the institution.

With the grief that came with the November 14, 1970 plane crash that killed all 75 people on board including members of the 1970 Marshall football team, coaches and fans, there was also hope felt in the following years.

Hope was celebrated Sunday as the university marked the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Marshall football team, the Young Thundering Herd, which lifted the spirits of a community as out of ashes it rose.

The 51st annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony was headlined by Mark Miller, a member of the 1971 Young Thundering Herd. Miller shared how the 1970 crash impacted his life. He was an 18-year old freshman in 1970 and did not travel with the varsity football team.

Mark Miller

He credited Marshall coaches Red Dawson and Mickey Jackson for rallying players following the crash. Miller was recruited by coach Red Dawson, and along with other freshman players, helped prepare the varsity squad each week at practice for their next opponent, the university stated.

Miller said members of the Herd that were returning from a game at East Carolina on that stormy November 1970 night would be proud of the university today.

“If here today, our ’70 teammates would be so proud of the Young Herd, the university for carrying on our football program, for honoring their memory, for ensuring that they will never be forgotten and their legacy would be of a football program like no other,” Miller said.

In his final fountain ceremony as Marshall president, Dr. Jerome Gilbert told the crowd that hope at Marshall is just as strong as its grief.

“Our emotion of grief is very strong but the emotion associated with hope is similarly strong. We also bring that emotion to the fountain as we celebrate the Young Thundering Herd,” Gilbert said.

“This plaza and its Memorial Fountain become a sacred place as we gather together on Nov. 14. It is a symbol of tragedy and it is a symbol of the 75. More importantly, it is a symbol of hope and love.”

First-year Marshall football coach Charles Huff participated in the ceremony and spoke of a verse in the Bible that stated, ‘your ways are not my ways, your thoughts are not my thoughts.’

Huff said he does not know why that plane went down 51 years ago and doesn’t know why “God chose Marshall to be the strongest university in America.” He said it happened for a reason and has given Marshall hope.

Charles Huff

“I don’t know why God chose Huntington to be a community that represents more than a university, more than a football program. I don’t know why but I trust that God made the right decision,” Huff said.

“I trust that everything that has happened to this community, the university, this football team happened for a reason.”

Huff also stated how he has embraced the Marshall community from day one on campus and what the 75 means to him now.

“You have my commitment to the loved ones who lost someone that night, you have my commitment that as long as I live I will honor the 75 with my daily performance as not only a football coach but as a father, husband, a community member,” Huff said.

The Southern Airways Flight 932 crash into the hills of Wayne County is known as the worst sports-related tragedy in American history. The plane was carrying 37 members of the football team, eight members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, two pilots, two flight attendants, and a charter coordinator.

The names of all 75 victims were read Sunday followed by a rose being placed on the fountain. The fountain’s water was then turned off until spring.

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