Bob Martin has shed 41 years worth of tears.

Quiet tears. Guilty tears. Grief-stricken tears.

And the 65-year-old resident of Memphis, Tenn., wanted the weeping to end.

So, he came.

He finally came.

Martin and his wife, Judy, got in their car, fastened the seat belts securely around their waists and not so securely around their emotions and made the eight and a half-hour trek to Huntington last weekend.

The occasion?

They came to attend the annual memorial service held Monday to commemorate the anniversary of the tragic plane crash that killed 75 people, including most of Marshall's football team, on Nov. 14, 1970.

It was a trip Martin always knew he would have to make one day.

That's because as a charter coordinator for Southern Airways, it was Martin who scheduled the DC-9 aircraft for Marshall and assigned the five crewmen that flew the fatal Flight 932 until it clipped some treetops and crashed nose-first into a muddy hillside in Wayne County.

That was 41 long years ago.

Or yesterday, if your name is Bob Martin and you live with the daily guilt of 75 people dying on your watch. That is the seemingly unmanageable burden Martin has shouldered for, oh, these 41 years.

But he finally decided to lay it down on Monday, after sitting through the hour-long ceremonies at Marshall's Memorial Student Center.

"Watching the memorial service was very emotional," said Martin. "When I say emotional, I mean in so many different ways. I knew the crew. I'd flown with that crew on some charters before.

"I could have been on that plane. There was a chance. But it wasn't me.

"And that just makes you want to say, 'Why?' And you want to say, 'Why not me?' It's just one of those things where I just felt. ... well, frankly, I just felt some guilt."

Survivor guilt, perhaps?

"Yeah," answered Martin, as his eyes welled with tears.

Yet, it wasn't merely survivor guilt. It was worse than that. Martin actually felt responsible for the loss of those 75 lives. He had held himself accountable for 41 tear-stained years.

Until Monday.

"Being here and seeing it," said Martin, "going to the crash site the other day and up to the cemetery (Spring Hill) this morning, just helps you kind of get relieved of some of this."

The shoulders of his soul had sagged long enough under the inexorable onus of his guilt-ridden world.

"Yeah, I have carried a burden," Martin admitted. "No more than anybody else. Everybody involved in this had a burden. But I think about it all the time. It has been a part of my life.

"And I knew there was going to have to be a time that I needed to come up here. I'm glad I did. I feel better about it.

"I feel much better now that I've been here."

After 41 years, Martin finally found some closure on Monday.

"Yeah, more so," he said. "You realize you need to make your peace. But it's kind of like the speaker said and I read and I saw in the movie. This is something you can't forget. ... not ever forget. But you'll feel some closure to it.

"How blessed I feel that I was able to be here today. Some people that I knew lost their lives. A lot of people I didn't know lost their lives."

And Martin felt responsible for every single one of them.

But not anymore.

Bob Martin wept again Monday.

This time they were tears of relief.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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