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We come every year.

Not from any feeling of obligation, duty or responsibility.

And, certainly, not because it's the social thing to do annually on November 14.

For those of us who actually lived with Marshall's football players, who perished in the horrific plane crash 46 years ago on Monday, we attend the memorial ceremony each year for one simple purpose.

To say good-bye.

Because we never got to.

Sure, we told the fellas to have a great game and bring back a win when they left South Hall dormitory (now named Holderby Hall) on that fateful Friday.

But in our worst nightmares, we didn't dream we never would see our friends again.

It was unthinkable.

It still is.

So, no, we never said good-bye. And it always has been a little haunting. There isn't closure without that final farewell.

That's why we continue to come every year.

We endure the hyperbole, the faux sentimentality, the crocodile tears from the officials, university leaders and politicians sitting on the dais as they attempt to wax with poetic emotion about people, who, for the most part, they never knew or met.

It's a ceremony for them.

It is unresolved grief for us.

It's much, much different when the people the speakers are talking about are more than mere names.

We laughed with these guys and commiserated with them.

We kidded them and they kidded us back.

They borrowed toothpaste every morning.

They left fake phone call messages on our doors.

They told us stories and tales and anecdotes.

We kept their secrets. They kept our trust.

We had their backs; they had ours.

That's how life is when a group of young guys live together.

Did I say young?

The mirror says differently. The pretty lady who cuts my hair says it is getting lighter. That's a very graceful way of conceding some white hair has moved into my blond head of hair's neighborhood.

Now, I'm on Medicare. I have an AARP card. I get senior discounts just about everywhere.

I'm not the young guy I was on Nov. 14, 1970.

But they are.

That's the compelling irony, which stabs us silently in the heart on this day every year. When the waters of the Memorial Fountain are stilled and the air becomes so painfully heavy with silent sadness it's nearly suffocating when the names of the crash victims are announced one-by-one.

Every time a player's name is read, his face flashes into my mind as though it were yesterday. But, now, it's yester year. I'm 46 years older, but they're not. The players still are 19-, 20-, 21-, 22-year-olds. In my mind, they haven't aged a day.

They never will.

That is one of the two most profound truisms of this sad event. The other? Our good-byes shall remain unspoken.

We were on the ninth floor lounge waiting for the football players to return.

We were waiting to hear all about Gator Cottrell's interception and 81-yard return for a touchdown.

Mostly, we were just waiting for friends such as Tom Brown, Freddie Wilson, Nutsy Norrell, Bobby Van Horn, Marcel Lajterman, Joe Hood and Dennis Blevins to come home to South Hall.

They never did.

That's why we come to the ceremony every year. It's as close as we can get to good-bye.

We'll be back again next year, Lord willing.

See you then, fellas.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at


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