HUNTINGTON - Surrounded by thousands of people sitting silently on the Memorial Student Center Plaza Saturday morning, Matt Hayes remembered two.
Two people in a photograph sitting in Fairfield Stadium on Nov. 15, 1970, the day after a plane carrying the Marshall University football team crashed near Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 aboard.
"Fairfield is empty, except for two individuals seated on the first row in the east bleachers in midfield, both facing west looking toward the field," said Hayes, executive director of alumni relations at Marshall University. "The photograph is dated Nov. 15, 1970, one day following the crash. The photo is inscribed with a quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, and it says 'The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.'"
Hayes was among several who spoke Saturday at the 45th annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony that pays tribute to the 75 football players, coaches, staff, supporters and plane crew members who lost their lives.
Others spoke of how Marshall was able to "bear defeat without losing heart" and how far the school has come since the tragedy. Each had a different reason as to why it is important to never forget.
Stephen Ward was the keynote speaker. He was 5 when his father Parker Ward, 36, who owned Hez Ward Buick in Huntington, died in the crash.
Instead of focusing on the tragedy, Ward told a recent story of how the crash brought people together.
He said he and his friends visited Spring Hill Cemetery the day after Marshall's home opener this year against Purdue.
"We went up there and got out of the car and went to the monument," he said. "As we looked down to honor the six unidentified players, we saw two Purdue lapel pins fans had left in respect for Heaven's Herd."
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick also spoke Saturday and said even 45 years later it is important to remember those who died.
"It's imperative we recognize the magnitude of this great sacrifice. Those individuals on that particular day gave it all to Marshall University and this passionate community that supports it," he said. "It's a story that no one else has found a sense of in the country.
"We were all affected that day, Nov. 14, 1970, in many different ways. The most important thing we all shared and remember is Nov. 14, 1970, was the day we became 'We are ... Marshall.'"
Marshall football players and coaches were also in attendance for Saturday's ceremony, including head coach Doc Holliday.
Holliday, who was a middle school student in Hurricane, West Virginia, at the time of the crash, fought back tears as he spoke of the significance of the crash.
"As we take the field against FIU today, I promise you our team is ready to battle with the same resilience that kept our school alive after that very sad night in 1970," he said. "I told our players ... when that 75 goes on that helmet, you have to play a little harder."
The Herd went on to shutout Florida International University, 52-0, in its last home game of the season.
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