Published Nov. 15, 2010
HUNTINGTON — It’s been 40 years, nearly two generations, since a plane carrying 75 Marshall University players, coaches and supporters crashed just short of a landing at Tri-State Airport.
Family members of the victims, as well as friends and members of the community devastated by the loss of so many with promising futures and rich contributions to Huntington, gathered once again Sunday to honor their memory during the Annual Memorial Service.
They sat or stood outside the Memorial Student Center in cold rain, similar to the weather on the night of the crash. Some wore their Marshall green, and others were in black as a wreath and roses were laid at the Memorial Fountain and it was turned off for the winter.
Speakers at the event included Marshall’s Student Body President Patrick Murphy, as well as Allen Meadows, who gave the invocation; Sarah Schofield, who sang “Amazing Grace”; football coach John “Doc” Holliday; Athletic Director Mike Hamrick; Marshall President Stephen Kopp; West Virginia Gov. Designate Earl Ray Tomlin; and keynote speaker William “Mickey” Jackson.
Holliday said that while there may be football programs in America that are bigger than Marshall’s, there aren’t any that are more important in their communities, saying he was committed to turning the program into one that once again won championships. Hamrick said he hopes that one day, he’ll get to meet the 75 souls who died in the crash.
“I hope they tell me, ‘You did a good job for Marshall University,’ ” Hamrick said.
Some who attended Sunday were those who come every year, and others made a rare trip for the occasion. Those who remember the deceased said that while they have moved on, it was an event that has shaped the past 40 years of their lives in one way or another.
On Nov. 14, 1970, Mary Plyde Bell was home with her newborn daughter, Elizabeth, her fourth and youngest child, who was born 10 days before the crash. On Sunday, all four of her children, all eight of her grandchildren and a total of about 26 family members and friends attended the memorial service with her to honor her late husband, Parker Ward Sr., a Herd fan who died on the flight.
It was moving to have everybody together for the 40th anniversary, she said. But one thing she’s noticed about her family members is that they will make a special effort to stay close.
“I don’t know if this is what has made the family close, but we work at it,” Bell said Sunday, adding that it doesn’t matter if it’s during good times or bad. “We work at being together and having special time together.”
Those who attended Sunday cited a number of ways that their lives have been affected.
Jackson, an assistant coach for the team in 1970 who was on a scouting trip and not with the team the night of the crash, spoke Sunday. Despite the tears he’s shed, he said he’s come to the inspiring conclusion that he was fortunate to have known the men and women who died that night.
A former Marshal player himself in the 1960s, Jackson had fond memories of several who died, with just two examples being athletic director and former assistant Herd coach Charles Kautz and physician Ray Hagley. Kautz helped Jackson through the tough knocks of being a freshman player. Hagley and his wife became good friends.
“When I was denied housing because of the color of my skin, he bought one and rented it back to me,” Jackson remembered aloud on Sunday. It had been Hagley’s way of showing that they were all in it together, said Jackson, who now lives in Columbus.
As president of the Marshall University Alumni Association, Jackson encouraged those in attendance to check out the beautiful new Erickson Alumni Center and to stay involved with the university. Everyone’s involvement makes Marshall better, he said.
“From President Stephen Kopp to my first hello when I stepped on campus in 1963, there are many people that I now consider part of my Marshall family,” he said.
In a tightly knit community like Huntington, people are connected in many ways, some said, and so the plane crash was a blow to everyone.
Ann Harvey was a freshman cheerleader at the time of the crash. She had put on her burgundy bell bottoms and a flowered blouse that night to go to a dance in Ceredo. It was a party where Herd player Marcelo Lajterman was going to announce his engagement. But that never happened, she said.
When the news came, everyone left, and she went back to Twin Towers dorm, describing the scene as “mass hysteria.” She remembers a crying girl calling at 2:30 a.m. to see if her brother had been killed. She remembers that there were no counselors on hand at the time, but there were nurses there, who would give the most hysterical students Valium and put them to sleep on mattresses that had been lined up on the first floor. She also remembers that the room where the football players ate in the cafeteria was draped in flowers, and that no one set foot in it for several months.
Now, Harvey is an Ironton resident whose husband, Steve Harvey, is chaplain for the Herd. She comes to the memorial service every year.
“It’s my way of showing respect,” she said. “... Football is more than football at Marshall, and this puts everything in perspective. Everyone wants to win, but the important thing is when the plane lands and everyone is safe.”