Published Nov. 15, 2008
HUNTINGTON -- The plane crash that killed 75 football players, coaches, staff, supporters and flight crew 38 years ago will always be a part of Marshall University's history.
And that's the way students both of today and yesteryear want it.
"It's a true test of character and loyalty that we gather on this somber day to honor those whose lives were cut short," said Student Body President Matt James at the opening of the annual Memorial Service, held at noon Friday.
"We are Marshall is not just a school motto, a cheer or a movie title," James added. "It is a reminder that these 75 people will remain the heart and soul of this university."
The crowd that gathered around the Memorial Fountain on Friday was one of the largest in the ceremony's history, largely because of it also being homecoming week. And it showed that no matter how much times passes, the healing never stops and lives should never be forgotten.
"The farther you get from a traumatic event, the more it fades from your memory," said 1980 Marshall graduate Joe Johns, the keynote speaker at the service, stressing the importance of the service.
The CNN Correspondent and 2008 Homecoming Parade Grand Marshal said even now, seeing the fountain takes him back to the late 1970s when he stepped onto a campus that was still reeling from the 1970 crash.
"It's a bit of a lump-in-the-throat moment (seeing the fountain) because if you went to Marshall over the past 38 years, you remember what happened," Johns said.
"Healing was still taking place (when I came to Marshall)," Johns continued. "You didn't know how to talk to people. There were some people who wouldn't let go. Couldn't let go."
But on every day, of every month, of every year, since Nov. 14, 1970, there's been at least one person who said they wouldn't allow the crash to destroy Marshall, Johns said.
"You may see your darkest day, but somebody will be there to pick up the pieces," he said.
And the memorial, where the wreath and flowers are laid while the names of the victims are read before the fountain is shut off for the winter, passes the story along to those who aren't from Huntington, weren't born in 1970 or who simply never knew.
"I had never heard of the plane crash. I didn't know what the fountain was for," said Benjamin Cook, a junior from Parkersburg. "One of the very first things I learned (my freshman year) was how everyone was so proud of this university."
Marshall President Stephen Kopp, who was taking part in his fourth memorial service, said that remembering the victims offers continued healing to families and friends who lost someone. It also serves as a lesson about life.
"In remembering, we find comfort and peace, and in remembering, we mend fragments of our lives," Kopp said. "In remembering, we affirm the meaning of our lives and discover the courage to go on.
"In remembering, we nurture their memory and affirm our commitment to never forget," he said.