This week Huntington remembers two special memorials created a half-century apart. Tragedy, grief and loss were these memorials’ raw building materials. Over time, love, support and hope connected to these memorials have given solace to many and renewed spirits, while teaching lessons to future generations.
No one connected to Huntington can forget the Southern Airways crash on Nov. 14, 1970. It was the worst plane crash affecting a university. The families and loved ones of Marshall University’s 75 team members, staff, community supporters and the flight crew who perished on the flight suffered most, but the entire community continues to share this devastating loss.
Huntington and Marshall University were changed forever. In many communities there are strong “town-gown” divisions; not in Huntington. “We are Marshall” is much more than a movie and “Ashes to Glory” is not just a documentary. In 1970, Marshall could have decided to end the football program and try to push the tragic memories from everyone’s mind.
Wiser souls prevailed. The football program roared back with the Young Thundering Herd and over the years has encouraged faithful followers, who even in this crazy COVID-19 time, are joyfully witnessing a fantastic winning season a half-century after the unimaginable tragedy. In two days, on Nov. 14, Marshall’s Memorial Fountain, will again be turned off for the winter as the community’s commemoration again shares the grief of 50 years.
Another major memorial in Huntington, the Memorial Arch, is a monument to community members who lost their lives fighting in World War I. That war officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, initially called Armistice Day, now Veterans Day. No one alive today has a memory of that horrific war. It was considered “the war to end all wars” until we learned how foolish and hateful mankind can be. Nine million soldiers of various nations perished, and over 150,000 Americans gave their lives. Yet, the 1918-19 flu pandemic is believed to have killed more Americans than the war itself.
People in Huntington felt a strong need to memorialize the 91 area men who lost their lives serving their country. The first memorial stone was laid Nov. 11, 1924, and the magnificent replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe was dedicated exactly five years later where Memorial Parkway meets 11th Avenue West.
A large American flag flies proudly from the upper part of the arch, and the Park District carefully tends the surrounding grounds. The names of those who perished in the war are engraved on a bronze plaque on the memorial’s base, which I observed being cleaned just before Veterans Day. If not for this memorial, most people in Huntington would have no knowledge of these men who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Memorials often remind of us of tragic times and those we have lost. Yet, they also give us a link to, and appreciation of, heartbreaking losses as well as hope and spirit to face future challenges.