Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A reader's response to memoir: 'A must read'

Rudy Anderson
The memoir November Ever After takes you inside the aftermath of what was one of the most tragic events in the world of sports. The vintage photos and images in the video teasers leave you focused and seared with the weight of that time.

What comes back to you is that the Marshall players are so full of life and expectations. For the school's coaches, players, parents, relatives, classmates, friends, and team supporters, 1970 began as a year of promise. 

It didn’t end that way.

This book is a great read and author Craig T. Greenlee takes you there. You don’t have to wonder about what is going on – you know. If Craig puts “pen to paper” about something, it’s worth writing about. It’s worth knowing about. Craig is an outstanding writer who is insightful, reflective and inspiring. 
Don’t sleep on this one. A must read.

A former television news anchor, Rudy Anderson is the Internal Communications Manager at Winston-Salem State University (NC).

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book excerpt: Homegoing Caravan proved to be an emotional roller coaster for everybody

 Editor's Note: Five days after the plane crash, a group numbering between 50 and 60  people representing Black United Students of Marshall University rode a chartered bus on a five-day trip that covered more than 1,500 miles. These folks, who represented Black United Students of Marshall University, attended a wake and three funerals at Bluefield, West Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Greenwood, South Carolina. This trip enabled these students to say their final good-byes to seven of the ten black football players who died. Below is an excerpt from "November Ever After" about that trip (Chapter 5 Homegoing Caravan).

       Getting fifty-something seats filled for a chartered bus trip was not a problem. There was a strong sense of obligation to go on this sojourn. Folks had a burning desire to pay their final respects. Nobody ever said it, but all of us knew it was the appropriate thing to do. 
     Whites were not barred from the caravan. It just turned out that no white folks signed up to go. The school made sure that Marshall would be represented at every player’s funeral by assigning various faculty and staff members to attend designated services.

Unique affinity

       Several campus organizations held memorial services for all the crash victims. But among the blacks at Marshall, there was a unique affinity because of skin color and culture. Call it a sign of the times. It was a time in which blacks were the small minority on white college campuses, but were very vocal in helping to pave the way for blacks’ inclusion into every facet of student life.
       Marshall was no different. Back then, the black pride movement was at its peak. The soul hit “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown became an anthem for blackness back in the day.
       “Marshall was a very small community,” said Angela Dodson. “There were only a few us (black students). To lose ten at one time was a big dent. In the midst of all the confusion and shock, we needed to do something active or proactive to try to process all that had happened and be part of it.”

Wide range of emotions

     The most unique aspect of this trip was the kaleidoscope of emotions experienced by the passengers as they traveled from one funeral site to another. There were upbeat moments accompanied by laughter and horseplay—and always lots of spontaneous singing. 
     By the end of the journey, it’s safe to say that there were few onboard who didn’t know at least one stanza of the black church hymn “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”
       All during the trip, caravan passengers sang spirit-lifting songs that reinforced a message of hope that some way, somehow, everything was going to be all
right. Audience participation on the bus trip didn’t end with song. As a means of coping, the passengers—one by one—got out of their seats and shared their fondest memories of the players who died. These testimonial-style presentations helped everyone on the bus to learn more about the human side of these deceased athletes.

Mood changes all along the way

       Melancholy moments were to be expected. Every time the bus would get within forty to forty-five minutes of arriving at the next funeral stop, the mood would change dramatically. Bus riders went from being jovial to being in mourning. At those times, silence gripped the atmosphere. With the exception of some quiet chatter here and there, the only sound was the barely audible hum of the engine as the bus motored down the highway.
       This aura of quietness remained when passengers boarded the bus after attending a homegoing. The silence would last for as long as an hour or two. At times, the stillness was so obvious that you could hear a mosquito breathe.

A bus ride that none of the travelers will ever forget

       These extremes in shifting emotions played out time after time over the course of this trip. “At one point, you felt terribly sad,” said Bundy. “But
then you felt a closeness, a togetherness, a love for each other; and you felt
how everybody was holding up everybody else.”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Alum's perspective on memoir: 'my life is richer'

By Gary Sweeney

During Marshall University's Homecoming weekend in October of 2011, my wife (Anne) and I got to visit a very good friend – Maurice Cooley. We cultivated a lasting friendship during our days at MU. Today, Maurice serves our alma mater with his enthusiastic leadership in helping black students get an education as the director of the Student Relations Center at Marshall.

Maurice escorted me and Anne to the on-campus bookstore to meet author Craig Greenlee. Craig and I are graduates of Marshall's W. Page Pitt School of Journalism & Mass Communications. But because I’m a few years older, we never had any journalism classes together.
Craig had a book signing for November Ever After on Homecoming DayHis book is unlike others that have documented the heartache that HuntingtonWest Virginia faced during those dark times which started on the night of November 14, 1970.  

The tragedy was so devastating for everyone

It's about the tragedy that we – as young students – did not know how we should act or react. Most of us had never been forced to deal with the emotions associated with death. Not only that, but we had to come to grips with losing most of our football team and coaches, our classmates and friends. 

Some of us had friends whose parents were passengers on that ill-fated flight.
I’m happy I that purchased a copy of Craig's book.  Not long after Homecoming, we traveled to Texas to see our older daughter (Rebecca), her husband, and three of our wonderful grandchildren. During our visit, I finished the book during the wee hours of quiet nights and early mornings. 

I laughed.
I renewed friendships of long days past...
I cried often! 
In late the 1960s, the Herd got serious about football

Craig played football for the Herd during our days at Marshall University. He [along with the rest of the large freshman class] was recruited by Coach Perry Moss to become a part of something greater. MU’s undefeated freshman team of 1968 provided tangible proof that the school was serious in its efforts to become a formidable force in college football. 

Our days in Huntington (West Virginia) were not pleasant ones when it came to football.  Marshall was very close to having the longest losing streak in the nation. Craig was one of many black athletes who accepted Coach Moss's invitation to play football in West Virginia.

But because Craig had given up the game of football, he was not on board the plane in 1970. I believe God had a new purpose for Craig ... and it would take over forty years before Craig would pen a book about what it was like to be a student at MU and a former Thundering Herd teammate. 

Sincere thanks to my friend Maurice

God has blessed my life often and He continues to do so.  I don't know why Maurice chose to introduce me to Craig Greenlee during Homecoming of 2011. 
Thank you, Maurice. 
My life is richer because of November Ever After.

Gary Sweeney is a 1969 graduate of Marshall University.

Editor's Note: Reader feedback is always welcomed, regardless of whether it's good or bad. Please share your thoughts on every blog entry you read on this site. My sincere thanks for your support.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A unique and everlasting bond

Editor's Note: Today marks the 46th anniversary of the Marshall air tragedy. On the night of November 14, 1970, a Southern Airways DC-9 jet carrying the Thundering Herd football team, coaches, staff and supporters, crashed as it attempted to land at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. There were no survivors among the 75 passengers on board. Bill Dodson, a fellow Marshall graduate (Class of '73) graciously consented to share his thoughts about an event that happened so many years ago. Mr. Dodson builds a strong case that for those of us who were there at that time -- we are linked for life.
    I saw where a friend posted on Facebook that we (Marshall alumnus who experienced the tragedy of 1970) have a bond. I had said so previously. 
    Not only is that bond a means to connect. But it's also an unspoken commitment to forever honor those who had fallen on that fateful night. As Craig Greenlee conducted research for his book, November Ever After, this was the underlying premise. 
   In the years that followed the tragedy, many of us who were left behind had not spoken publicly about our experience. There was difficulty in finding words to express ourselves.
    Even so, each one of us made a pact within their hearts to honor their friend, associate or loved one. When we gathered it was a topic that we would dwell on. Nevertheless, there was never a doubt about the pain that lingered below the surface. 
   The documentary about the crash -- Ashes to Glory -- opened my eyes to this reality. Originally, I was numbed by the horror of the event. Later in life, those feelings were repressed as an unresolved experience like an open wound to the heart that never healed completely. 
    I used to call Nate Ruffin around "that time of the year" to check in. Nate played on the 1970 team, but missed the fatal flight because of a season-ending injury. Ruffin passed away in 2001.
    During our conversations, we talked about current things, touching base on family and friends. Still, "the elephant in the room" was the tragedy that was never directly addressed.
    For me, the documentary opened up a whole box of memories and emotions. In facing it head-on, it produced a measure of closure. Not that I could ever put it past me. Instead, I felt compelled to move forward and honor the fallen. 
    Reconnecting with the Marshall University Black Alumni was the start and there's been healing as a result. We worked to memorialize Nate's passing by raising funds which resulted in a prominent memorial at the Alumni Center on the Marshall campus. Black Alumni has established an ongoing support mechanism to help fund scholarships in Nate's name. 
    Gathering each year at MU was affirming -- and I was not alone. Others came back to check in. It was like a call went out and people paraded in one by one. 
    It's a bond we have, unlike any other college group. It's written upon our hearts and resides in a special place in our minds. Our departed classmates live on through each of us every day as we remember the sacrifices they made as a source of inspiration. 
    We are one as part of the Marshall University family. There's the real story we all could add to a chapter of any book about that time in our lives and those who were a real part of it. 
    The bond we have will never be broken! Go Herd!

-Bill Dodson

Video tribute to the 1970 Thundering Herd

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Memories of a Marshall Classmate ... Part II

Editor's Note: The classic song mentioned in the blog entry below has a fascinating and somewhat eerie connection to the Marshall University plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 people on the night of November 14, 1970. This song came out the same year, about nine months prior to the crash. What's so ironic is that the lyrics paint a "real-life" picture of what many of us were thinking and feeling on the night when Marshall's plane went down in flames. Kathy Dial, the author of this blog entry, grew up in Huntington, West Virginia. Ms. Dial attended MU in 1970 and dated Kevin Gilmore, who was one of the 37 Marshall football players on board for that fatal flight.

    Hello Craig ..... In November Ever After when you wrote about the James Taylor song '"Fire and Rain," it also brought back so many memories. 
    My boyfriend Kevin Gilmore played football and was roomates with Ted Shoebridge (quarterback). Ted's girlfriend (Nikki Garnett) and I were given the task of cleaning out their dorm room and boxing up and shipping their possessions to their families. 
    "Fire and Rain" came on the radio and we stopped what we were doing and just stood there. From that day forward, that song has had an entirely different meaning for me than it did before the crash.  

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

    Kevin and I were going to go to his home in New Jersey for Thanksgiving that year so that I could meet his family. As it turned out, I met them under entirely different circumstances. 
    Kevin's family accepted me into their close-knit family for which I was so grateful and we have continued to stay in touch. I was thrilled to see Nate Ruffin (cornerback) at the fountain ceremony in 2000 and was able to talk with him for a few minutes and compare our memories. 
    I made a trip to Huntington and stopped by Spring Hill cemetery. Kevin and five of his teammates who could not be identified are buried at Spring Hill. As the minister said at their joint funeral (in 1970) -- the six guys buried there - played as a team and they are still a team. 
   Thank you again for writing this book. I think this crash affected and shaped the survivors in so many different ways. 
    We will never forget. Nor will we ever truly "get over it."

-Kathy Dial

Coming on Monday:
46th anniversary message:
A unique and everlasting bond

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Memories of a Marshall Classmate ... Part I

    I came across November Ever After on Amazon by chance and knew instantly that I had to read it. It was great to finally read an account of the plane crash from someone who experienced the horror of the crash and the aftermath of dealing with such a tragedy by those who were left behind. 
   Craig, your book brought back so many memories for me. I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia and graduated from Huntington East High School in '68. I attended Marshall University and in the spring of '70, I met and started dating Kevin Gilmore (running back/tight end/defensive back). 
    I think Kevin was one of those who also had a  premonition about the crash. He had been ill the week of the crash and had lost quite a few pounds. Before he left he looked at me and said "I don't even want to go."  I can remember being so shocked by his words because his life revolved around his love of playing football.  
    I remember going to see him before he boarded the team bus headed to the airport. We looked around and saw "The Gov," (defensive lineman Larry Brown) standing there. And of course he looked like he had just come from a photo shoot for a men's fashion magazine. 
    We commented about how nice he looked and he said something to the effect -- "take a good look because you will never see me again." His haunting words have stuck with me all these many years. 

-Kathy Dial  

Coming Thursday ..... Memories of a Marshall Classmate -- Part II