Do you remember what you were doing 42 years ago today, November 14, 1970? It is not an easily recognizable date to the average American; however, some sports fans and most Marshall University alumni painfully remember this date as the day their football team perished in a flaming plane crash.
The chartered Douglas DC-9 crashed killing all 75 aboard. Not only did the university lose its entire football team but many of the leaders from the city of Huntington, WV were lost. The plane was carrying 37 members of the team, eight members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, four flight crew members, and one employee of the charter company. According to the NTSB report, the accident was “unsurvivable”.
The team was returning home after playing East Carolina, a game which they lost 17-14. As they approached the Huntington Tri-State Airport in heavy fog and rain, the plane missed the runway and crashed into the hillside less than one mile from the runway. At 7:35 pm, on a cold and rainy November night the 75 souls on board were lost plunging the university and town into shock.
At the time of the crash I had graduated from Marshall and was teaching at a high school in Columbus. However, I had attended the game the week before and had great hopes for this team in the coming years. The four years I attended Marshall I watched the team lose game after game. They were rated as the most losing major college football team in the country.
It is hard to explain the effect the crash had on the town and the university. Huntington’s identity is Marshall University. In addition, many prominent doctors, attorneys and other professionals and civic leaders were lost in the crash. The movie We Are Marshall did a good job showing the depression, fear, and anger of the whole community.
The path to healing was long and hard. Many debated whether or not the university should even try to rebuild the team. However, they did rebuild and the opening game of the following season against Xavier University was a thriller—and I was there. Huntington’s newspaper, The Herald Advertiser said it best:
Young Herd Does It: MU 15, Xavier 13: Scores Touchdown On Final Play
By LOWELL CADE
Marshall University’s Young Thundering Herd stunned Xavier, 15-13, here Saturday and it’s doubtful any Marshall team ever won a bigger game or a more dramatic one.
The victory at Fairfield Stadium before an estimated record crowd of 13,000, including Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr., came just ten months and 11 days after the jetliner crash of Nov. 14, 1970, that dealt football at MU a staggering blow….
Pandemonium erupted — both on the AstroTurfed field and in the refurbished Fairfield stands. There was no reason to try to restore order and attempt the extra point.
I was there among the 13,000 crazy fans celebrating and I remember saying, “Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better.” Little did I know that many years later Hollywood would come to Huntington to tell the story of Marshall.
A beautiful fountain was erected on the campus to commemorate the team and fans. The fountain was designed by sculptor Harry Bertoia and he said it was his hope that the fountain would “commemorate the living – rather than death – on the waters of life, rising, receding, surging so as to express upward growth, immortality and eternality.”
A bronze plaque says: “They shall live on in the hearts of their families and friends forever, and this memorial records their loss to the university and to the community.”
Every year on this date a memorial service is held and the fountain is turned off until spring.
In 2000 a bronze memorial on the side of the football stadium was unveiled to “… stand as a symbol of community resilience and as a reminder of the awesome strength that can flow from a people united with a common bond. It represents the life, legacy and legend that is Marshall University Football…”
The memorial is titled “We Are Marshall”. Yes, “We are the sons and daughters of the great John Marshall,” as the Marshall fight song says; and all alumni bleed a bit of green and white as we stop to shed a tear every Nov. 14.
Note–John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was the Chief Justice of the United States (1801–1835) whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches. Previously, Marshall had been a leader of the Federalist Party in Virginia and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1799 to 1800. He was Secretary of State under President John Adams from 1800 to 1801.
Chief Justice (1801 to 1835)
Marshall served as Chief Justice during all or part of the administrations of six Presidents: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He remained a stalwart advocate of Federalism and a nemesis of the Jeffersonian school of government throughout its heyday. He participated in over 1000 decisions, writing 519 of the opinions himself.
He helped to establish the Supreme Court as the final authority on the meaning of the Constitution in cases and controversies that must be decided by the federal courts. His impact on constitutional law is without peer, and his imprint on the Court’s jurisprudence remains indelible.