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