Published Nov. 15, 2009
HUNTINGTON -- Hundreds gathered around the Marshall University Memorial Fountain on Saturday in honor of the 75 lives lost in the 1970 plane crash.
Saturday marked the 39th anniversary of the tragedy that killed most of Marshall's football team.
"Nov. 14, 1970, 7:47 p.m. -- I will never forget that date," said Joe Gillette, who was a freshman in 1969 and would have been a member of the 1970 team had he not suffered a severe shoulder injury the previous summer. "Thirty-seven football players (dead), every one of them my friend."
The chartered jet bringing the Thundering Herd back from a 17-14 loss at East Carolina on that rainy night in 1970 crashed short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova. All of the players, staff, supporters and crew on board died. The fountain on Marshall's campus is the landmark memorial for the victims. It is turned off every year on the anniversary until the spring.
On Saturday, the many people gathered focused on the triumphs made by the university and the community in the years since the tragedy.
Marshall's current athletic director Mike Hamrick recalled playing football for the Herd in the years after the crash.
"As a player in the late '70s, it was tough," he said. "We got through tough times in the '70s, and we prospered in the '80s and the '90s, and we move forward in the 2000s."
He said the town and university came together after the loss to become stronger.
Marshall University President Stephen Kopp said that unity should remind everyone of the power of love, family and community.
He said people all over the country have been touched by the tragedy, too. He said it was important to honor the memory of those who lost their lives and to find comfort and peace in remembering.
"In remembering, we are reminded how precious life is," Kopp said.
Supporters from near and far dressed in green and joined together around the fountain to remember at noon Saturday.
Vicky and Leland Terry traveled from Summersville, W.Va., to attend the ceremony for the first time. Their daughter attends Marshall.
Leland Terry, originally from Huntington, said he remembers when he was just 8 years old and the plane crashed. He watched the news coverage on his black and white TV.
Vicky Terry said the couple wanted to attend the event to support the university and the team.
"It's sentimental -- where they've been and come from to where they're going," she said.
J.D. and Donna Wolford traveled from Knoxville, Tenn., to attend the ceremony. A Huntington native, J.D. Wolford and his wife also are Marshall season ticket holders.
"We always try to come in this time each year," he said.
Wolford attended Marshall in the 1960s and was an active supporter of the football program during the year of the crash.
"I knew just about all of the citizens on the plane. I knew them very well," he said.