and Marshall's football
teams will always be linked to the most tragic day in North American
sports history. On November 14, 1970, a chartered Southern Airlines
plane, transporting Marshall players, coaches, wives, boosters and
officials from a Southern Conference game against East Carolina,
crashed and burned into a wet, foggy hillside two miles from the runway
of the Tri-State Airport. All 75 passengers aboard the DC-7 plane were
killed instantly upon impact, five of whom were doctors, which was
almost half of Huntington's registered physicians. The fiery furnace
that once was a plane was so severe that the bodies of six players were
never identified and were buried in a common grave site. The exact
cause of the crash was never determined.
It has been 35 years but the scars remain, especially for those few
team members who were not on the plane. Red Dawson was a 27 year old
assistant coach. Dawson drove to East Carolina, making some recruiting
stops along the way. He heard news of the plane crash on his car radio
during the drive home. Red arrived in Huntington in the middle of the
night and found himself among the searchers gathering scattered bodies
in the darkest night of his life. He saw the dead and later met with
Dawson was in charge of rebuilding the program and fielded a varsity
team in 1971, but he left coaching one year later, never again
attending a Marshall game until seven years ago. Yet according to
newspaper reports, he is still haunted by that November night. "Every
day something comes up and you have a flashback," remarked Dawson.
There are many reminders around Huntington of that tragic day. The
memorial fountain outside the Marshall Student Union has 75 strands
representing the 75 passengers killed on Nov. 14, 1970.
Up on the hill at the Tri-State Airport, a flame of stone burns atop a
monument like a lightless beacon with the 75 names who perished in the
crash. On the Marshall campus, water flows from the top of a fountain
shaped in 75 strands of steel that resembles a giant flower. It's a
memorial fountain outside the Student Union building that honors the
dead. Each year on November 14, a memorial service is held at the spot.
A bugler blows taps, wreaths are laid, a prayer is recited and the
water is turned off until the following spring.
The Thundering Herd football program has risen from the ashes. Marshall
hasn't had a losing season since 1983; they won I-AA national
championships in 1992 and 1996; and the Herd has been to seven bowl
games in the last nine years (including a 64-61 double overtime
thriller against ECU in the 2001 GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama).
This will be the third meeting between the two schools since the plane
crash, but that has done nothing to reduce the pain for those affected
by the tragic events of November 14th, 1970. None of the players
playing in Saturday's game were alive, but hopefully they will be
educated this week on how precious life is, and learn not to forget
those who came before them.