|The author during his playing days with the Thundering Herd.|
Monday, August 7, 2017
Book review: 'Greenlee makes you understand'
Editor's Note: Here's a published review of "November Ever After" that appeared in the News & Record, the daily newspaper in Greensboro, NC.
When Craig T. Greenlee says, “We are Marshall,” he means it.
Greenlee played football at Marshall University in the late 1960s and was still a student at the school when a plane crash left 75 people dead and wiped out most of the varsity team on November 14, 1970.
In his memoir November Ever After, Greenlee, a former News & Record sports reporter and copy editor, tells the story of that time period and its effect on the community. His personal recollections, combined with a journalist’s penchant for detail and research, make November Ever After a compelling read.
Greenlee makes no effort to recount what might have happened on the airplane, instead sticking to the reaction on the ground. He conducted numerous interviews with surviving friends and family members, along with some who might have been on the plane had circumstances not intervened. That helped to create a picture of the atmosphere in Huntington, West Virginia during the era.
Overwhelming sense of loss
Many of the victims were Greenlee’s best friends at Marshall. In fact, he was so close to the situation that some members of his own family believed he was on the doomed plane, which had taken off from Kinston, NC after the Thundering Herd’s loss to East Carolina. But the defensive back had quit football at the end of the 1969 season, saying his heart wasn’t in it anymore. And that decision, he realized, saved his life.
Greenlee’s closest friend on the plane was Scottie Reese, an outside linebacker and defensive end. Three weeks before the crash, Greenlee was engaged and had just recently asked Reese to be his best man for the December wedding.
“Even though we (Greenlee and his fiancée) realized that the crash did happen, it was like we were both frozen in a state of being numbfounded,” Greenlee wrote. “No tears, no bawling and no wailing. No escape from the inner turmoil that seemed to be everlasting.”
A night that was memorable for all the wrong reasons
Some of the most powerful passages in the book involve the moments when Greenlee and his classmates in a campus dormitory heard about the crash, then learned there were no survivors. Some snuck around police barricades to get closer to the wreckage and see for themselves. Others made tearful phone calls to victims’ families. And some, like Greenlee, tried to escape public displays and deal with the shock on their own.
The shared sorrow did bring the campus together. Greenlee tells the story of a fight between black and white campus groups the day before the crash, revealing racial tension he believes could have resulted in a full-blown riot if not for the distraction.
Later, black students chartered a bus to attend four memorial services in four states in five days. The 1,500-mile trip was dubbed the Homegoing Caravan.
Hollywood influenced author's decision to write a memoir
Greenlee said he was inspired to tell his own story after seeing embellishments, omissions and untruths in the 2006 feature film We Are Marshall, and a documentary released around the same time.
November Ever After fills those gaps. In a conversational, first-person style, Greenlee makes you understand what the 1970 Marshall crash meant to those who were affected, then and now.