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                                                      

Friday, November 4, 2016

'70 season was so promising until "that night"

Thundering Herd receivers Dennis Blevins (80) and Kevin Gilmore (24) battle
for position to catch a pass during the 1970 season opener against
Morehead State. (Photo courtesy of the Herald-Dispatch archives)
In another week-and-a-half, it will be 46 years since the Marshall football team, coaches, staff and supports died in a fiery plane crash. Even after so much time has passed, that horrible night continues to rate as a tragedy of epic proportions. 

    But what isn't always mentioned in regards to the crash, is how promising things looked for the Thundering Herd during that season. Up until the night of November 14, 1970, Marshall football had shown positive signs of better days to come.
    MU's '70 season ended with a gut-wrenching 17-14 road loss to East Carolina. It was a game in which the final outcome wasn't decided until the closing seconds.
    The team's record for that year was 3-6. But that was not a true reflection of how far the program had progressed after suffering through four straight losing seasons.. Prior to the second week of November 1970, the Herd was in position to finish up at 5-5 if it could win its remaining games against East Carolina and Ohio University. Had that happened, it would've marked a major breakthrough of more victories to come in the immediate future.
    Looking back on that season, all you need to do is look at the scores. In four of Marshall's losses, te average margin of defeat was a mere 3.5 points.
    Truth of the matter is that for the 1970 season, the Herd could have fared much better. It's not a stretch to say that Marshall could have posted a 7-2 record prior to the crash.
    That's saying a lot, especially when you consider that Marshall was woefully undermanned in terms of roster size. Over the course of a season, injuries tend to tell the tale, especially if your team doesn't have that many players on the roster to begin with.
    In spite of that, the Herd continued to press on. Who knows how things might have worked out had it not been for the crash? Sure, this is pure speculation. Still, I feel safe in saying that it's a question that's been asked over-and-over again over the past 40-something years.

-Craig T. Greenlee

Coming Tuesday, November 8th: Memories of a Marshall Classmate ... Part I

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A flashback from way back in the day

Editor's Note: A few days ago, I received a Facebook message from a Marshall University alumnus who graduated in 1968 -- the same year that I came to MU as a freshman. Jack Childers shared some of his recollections about the fall of 1970. During that time, he had just joined the military and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. On the night of November 14, a Southern Airways DC-9 jet, which had the Thundering Herd football team, coaches, staff and supporters on board, crashed into the side of a mountain. There were no survivors among the 75 passengers. Childers didn't hear about the tragedy until the next day. Here's an excerpt from his post.

Jack Childers

November 2, 2016 is the 46th anniversary of the day I left to join the U.S. Army in 1970. I signed up three months earlier and chose the date that I would leave. I went to Marshall University’s final home game of the 1970 season in October and was really impressed with quarterback Ted Shoebridge and place-kicker Marcelo Lajterman.

After a couple of weeks in basic training, we (new recruits) settled into a routine of getting up way too early, lining up and marching to the appropriately-named “chow hall,” or as it was locally named, the Mess Hall. On Sunday morning, November 15, just before I was ready to go out the door to breakfast, I heard something on the radio about a crash of the plane carrying the Marshall University football team, and all who were aboard. 

It was several days before I received the newspaper clippings from my mother. Among them (victims) were two people I knew, one of my sister’s coworkers -- Donald Booth -- who filmed the team’s games, and MU athletic director Charlie Kautz, who had been my teacher in two Physical Education classes. He had been generous and helpful as I tried to learn to swim. A good fellow in my book. 

So, each year when this date comes around, my mind wanders to the experiences I had from November 2, 1970 until January 20, 1971. It was the beginning of an important three-year experience that allowed me to meet people from all over the United States, and allowed me to spend two very full years in West Germany and gave me the chance to travel all over Europe. 
                                                          -Jack Childers