Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Part I: “Numbed .. not knowing what to do .. "

This photo of the Campus Christian Center  was taken on the night
of the crash by a Marshall University  yearbook photographer. 
Editor's Note: The is the first installment of a three-part series on the 1970 Marshall University air tragedy. On a dreary night, nearly 45 years ago, the Thundering Herd's plane crashed on its return from a road game at East Carolina. Everyone on board – 75 people in all – lost their lives. Marshall alumnus Bill Dodson, who attended MU in the late '60s/early '70s, shares some of his insight about the disaster that touched the lives of so many people in Huntington, West Virginia and its surrounding communities.

On November 14, 1970 my life would be changed forever. But it was the day before that set in motion a chain of events that are etched in my memory.

An on-campus fight took place after an intramural football game between Black United Students (BUS) and Kappa Alpha Order, a white fraternity, who waved a confederate flag. This was a practice of theirs during a recreation of “Old South Week,” which was a custom on Marshall University's campus.

This irked black students as the game proceeded. There's a picture of me in Marshall's yearbook, blowing my nose on a piece of a confederate flag!
Bad referee calls and the outcome of the game (BUS loss) drew heated tempers and a confrontation followed afterwards. A few people were cut in the fight and students fled before the police arrived.

When a young man came into the Twin Towers cafeteria carrying that flag, a black female student punched him out! The disturbance moved to the dorm lobby where Marshall's dean of students and white fraternity members had assembled.
Two Marshall football players, Larry “Gov” Brown and Larry “Dupree” Sanders came through from the cafeteria on their way to the bus which took the team to the airport. 

That night we cautioned others not to go out alone fearing retribution.
This was the case the following evening as word came over the television of the plane crash. A pall came over us all with the realization of what had happened. As a resident adviser in South Hall, I went back to the dorm and sent my date to her room.

Everyone was numbed by this experience not knowing what to do. Emergency services were hastily set up at Gullickson Hall with cots and counselors.

Over the next few days, I was numbed by the amount of loss and attended the memorial service where Nate Ruffin spoke to honor our classmates. Nate played football, but he was injured and didn't make the plane trip, so his life was spared.

Ironically, a Philadelphia minister, Ernie Wilson, had visited the campus a week before the tragedy. Like the 'Pied Piper', students followed this former New Orleans jazz musician to a worship service held at the Campus Christian Center. He gave his testimony and offered an invitation to accept Jesus Christ.

I responded to that invitation along with '”the Gov” and “Dupree” that day. I did not recall this memory until much later and was struck by the irony.

Pastor Wilson had come (to town) reluctantly to fill in for another evangelist who had a scheduling conflict. This act is etched in my memory as a symbol of grace. I did not understand its significance, but was encouraged by this “flicker of light” during a very dark chapter of my life.

I have now grown to trust in God and I have the hope of seeing our friends again in eternity. The first person I will look for is my friend Nate Ruffin who will lead me to see “the fellas” once again!
Bill Dodson

Tomorrow: Part II – Former coach shares his thoughts

1 comment:

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