Wednesday, October 25, 2017

'At one point, you felt terribly sad, but then you felt a closeness ... a love for each other ...'

Author's Note: Five days after the plane crash, a group of about 50-55 people representing Black United Students of Marshall University rode a chartered bus on a five-day trip that covered more than 1,500 miles. They attended a wake and three funerals at Bluefield, West Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Greenwood, South Carolina. This trip enabled these college students to say their good-byes to seven of the ten black football players who died. In my memoir, there's an entire chapter that goes into detail about that memorable journey.

Getting fifty seats on the chartered bus filled was not a problem. There was a strong sense of obligation to go on this trip. 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.

Book excerpt: 
'Homegoing Caravan'

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.

Widespread devastation

“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.”

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 on board who didn’t know at least one stanza of the black church hymn “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”

Emotional roller coaster

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.

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.

Long stretches of silence during the bus ride

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.

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.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reader reaction to Marshall football memoir: 'incredibly enlightening and thought provoking'

Hey Craig,

“… Finished reading your book … I have to say that it’s incredibly enlightening and thought provoking! Needless to say that I'm still in the overall “processing” stage. However, I no longer feel like I walked into a movie that was halfway over. I now have insight as to what happened before I arrived on campus (1971), and I can put together the pieces a whole lot better.

I can better appreciate what you, Janice (Cooley), Ed (Carter), et al were dealing with amid all of the hope and hype concerning The Young Thundering Herd! I regret that you and I never sat and talked when we attended school together. I’m sure that I would have been a more “aware” young man – both socially and spiritually – than I was.”
Chuck Jackson

Chuck Jackson’s comment to one of my blog entries confirmed what I already knew about the value of the memoir November Ever After. It's a story that needed to be written. It's a story that’s worthy to be shared with the masses.

For people such as Chuck, who came to Marshall after the tragedy, the book provides a proper frame of reference for what campus life was like before the crash. For those, like me, who were there at the time of the disaster, the book opens the door for some level of closure on an event that none of us will ever forget.

1971 was a mixed bag for those who were left behind

Keep in mind that for those of us who were around on the night that Marshall’s plane went down, the football season of 1971 represented a truly a mixed bag. I can’t speak for everyone who suffered from the pain of losing their schoolmates. But I do feel safe in saying that most of us engaged in an emotional tug-of-war when it was time for the start of a new season with essentially a brand-new team – the “Young Thundering Herd”
We will always remember the ’70 Marshall team that would never return. On the other hand, however, there was cause to rejoice and cause to cling to renewed hope. In spite of the heavy losses, Marshall opted to continue playing football.

A lasting tribute to those who perished

In my mind, the fact that the school refused to dump its football program says a whole lot about the university's decision makers at that point in time. Keeping Thundering Herd football going served as a most fitting tribute to the seventy-five people who died in a fiery plane crash on November 14, 1970.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

From the blog archives: Thundering Herd fans from New Jersey send thank-you letter

Note: I remember being so overjoyed when I received an email message from a couple of Marshall football fans several years ago (see below). It's so good to know that the memoir I wrote resonates so deeply with folks from all walks of life. And yes, I am oh so thankful that the opportunity presented itself for me to tell the greatest story that's never been told.

Hello Mr. Greenlee ...

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book.  I am about to read it again.  My wife Debbie and I met you and your Mrs. at the Marshall University Bookstore signing during Homecoming weekend.

We're from New Jersey. And we became Marshall fans after seeing the movie We Are Marshall. We've been making an annual visit to West Virginia to see a game ever since 2006 (the year the movie came out). 

I was 16 years old when the crash happened. I remember riding in the family car with my dad when the news came over the radio. 

The movie rekindled that memory for me, and things snowballed from there. I started researching the history of the football program, sent away for some fan gear, and then our yearly trips began in earnest.

"We Are Marshall" really hit an emotional chord with us. But from the start, I kind of figured that the filmmakers “Hollywoodized” it. With few exceptions, that’s often the case with fact-based stories that make it to the big screen. 
The movie will always hold a special place in our hearts. But just as important to us are the true, behind-the-scenes stories of what took place during that tragic time. That's what you gave to readers with your book November Ever After. Thanks very much for writing it, Mr. Greenlee, and for enlightening us all. 

Take care.

All the best,
John & Debbie Bacha

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What were the author's reasons for writing a book about the Marshall plane crash?

"Since you quit playing football the year before the crash, what was your motivation for writing the book? Was it based on guilt for not being on the team? Or, was it more about dealing with personal pain and loss?"

Thundering Herd safety Craig T. Greenlee during Media Day 1969.
(Photo courtesy of the Herald-Dispatch)

Author’s Note: It was six years ago that my memoir about the crash was launched. Not long after that, I was approached by a reader who asked some intriguing questions. Gotta admit that when I read over the questions, it actually caused me to pause for a few minutes. I knew right then that I didn't have a definitive answer. But after giving this some serious thought, I arrived at a few conclusions. So, here's my take on the questions. 

It was my choice to walk away from the game at the end of the 1969 season -- the 100th year of college football in America. As a result, I was not a member of the Marshall team in 1970.  And I never went through any form of withdrawal. 

Truth be told, I thoroughly enjoyed my life as a “regular” student.  Even though I had played football since the time of my single-digit birthdays, there was never a time when I wondered if I made the right decision.        

Never felt the need to feel guilty

As strange as it may sound, I never had any guilt feelings about not being on the Marshall plane that crashed on the night of November 14, 1970. I made a clean break from football when I left the team at the end of my sophomore year. 

Once I walked away, there was no second-guessing, no regrets about me no longer being a college jock. I never thought about putting the pads on again.

When you play a team sport like football, there’s a unique relationship that exists among the players. Through all the team meetings, wind sprints, tackling drills, scrimmages, games, team meals and study halls, you become part of something that's bigger than you as an individual.

Special bond among football players

This unique bond is strong because your teammates are the people you spend almost all of your time with – on and off the field. As a former teammate, there was still a deep connection. But I was no longer a part of the gridiron brotherhood, and that was OK by me.

In some ways, November Ever After was written from a perspective of personal pain. But that's not all. For me, writing helped me to start the process of sorting through some inner feelings that I had never really dealt with.

But as for getting closure, that remains to be seen. It may or may not ever happen, and I do understand that.

Self-reflections on what it was like back in the day

As I continue to write about the crash and its aftermath, I find myself reflecting a lot more on my college past than I ever have.

Do I ever wonder why I wasn’t on that plane nearly 47 years ago? The honest answer? Rarely, if ever.

There's still so much that I'm not sure about when it comes to making sense of a horrific tragedy that happened so long ago. But what I do know is this. 

Saved by God's grace

It’s only by God’s grace that I’m still here. In my mind, there's no question about it.
And who’s to say? Maybe, just maybe one of the reasons my life was spared was to write the memoir November Ever After.

If you knew more about the story behind my book, there's a good chance that you might agree with that. But that’s another discussion for another time and place.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My apology for any confusion

Author Craig T. Greenlee truly appreciates the love.
As a journalist, I've learned that there's always the possibility that what you write can be perceived in a way that was never intended. I believe that's what happened with my blog entry from yesterday --  "Book signing memorable for right reasons."

I was absolutely thrilled with the response on Facebook. But on the other hand, I was very puzzled. In reading over the comments, it occurred to me that most folks got the impression that my first book signing was a recent event. It was not. So, obviously, as the writer, I didn't do a good enough job of making that clear.

Please accept my humble apology for any confusion I may have caused.

Why is this such a big deal? 

It's a big deal because I try not to convey anything through my writing that might be misleading. Call it a pet peeve or whatever.

Think about it. Usually, when you congratulate someone, it's regarding something that has happened in the now or very recently. In regards to my first book signing, that was hardly the case. That event took place at a Marshall University homecoming celebration six years ago. 

My reason for writing about an event from yesteryear is simply because it's a cherished memory that I will never forget. The fact that the book was so well received by a large cross-section of people, was the proverbial "icing on the cake."

It's the right thing to do

Just want to clear that up because I believe it's the right thing to do.

Even though I didn't do a good enough job of communicating, there was still a ton of good stuff that resulted. Actually, the outpouring of kudos and congrats on Facebook reminded me so much of what happened at that first book signing in 2011.

I'll go as far as describing it as deja vu ... and that's a good thing.

Let me take this opportunity to offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who clicked "like" or took the time to comment. Your encouragement and support mean more to me than you'll ever know. 

Thoroughly enjoyed feedback from a bunch of folks

The blog entry got likes and comments from folks I grew up with in Jacksonville, Florida, along with former college classmates at Marshall, friends in Huntington, West Virginia, folks I know in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where I live), and people I worked with during the time I lived in Atlanta in the mid-to-late 1980s.  You guys really made my day.

In closing, allow me to share this thought with you. ... Be blessed on this day and always, for there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

-Craig T.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Book signing memorable for right reasons

The first-ever book signing for author Craig T. Greenlee
turned out to be a very special day. (Photo by Cynthia Greenlee)
A few years have passed since I wrote my first book. But even now, I can recall the excitement and sheer gratitude I felt on the day that I had my first-ever book signing event.

I had no idea what to expect. Looking back in retrospect, the timing and location couldn’t have been better – Homecoming Day 2011 at my alma mater, Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Never a doubt

I never doubted that people would come out and show their support. What caught me by total surprise was the ongoing overflow of former schoolmates and well-wishers who showed up at the on-campus bookstore to get an autographed copy of November Ever After

The book is a collaborative account of the 1970 plane crash that killed most of the school’s football team. These collective recollections are told from the perspective of those who were left behind, which includes yours truly.

Pictures, daps and hugs -- just like a reunion

I spent about two hours signing books, taking pictures and exchanging hugs and dap handshakes. And then, all of a sudden, there were no more books -- sold out. By the time the last available book was purchased, the scheduled four-hour event still had 90 minutes remaining.

Even so, there were folks who hung around to talk about our college days and ask questions about the book’s future availability and where it could be purchased online. And while there were no more books that I could autograph, I did take care of quite a few requests to put my signature on the back of some promotional business cards that I brought with me.

No question about memoir's ability to engage readers

What I’ll always remember is the clear confirmation about the appeal that November Ever After has. Yes, it’s a story that revolves mostly around the black students who were in school at the time of the 1970 air tragedy. But there’s a whole lot more to the story than that.

This memoir touches hearts. If that wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t have been such a wide cross-section of people who took the time to attend the event. In talking to those who came out, I learned that their interest in the book had nothing to do with age, gender, culture, or race. 

The bottom line is that people like to read a good story. No doubt, November Ever After fits that category. That's what I've been told by those who have read the book. This is not about wishful thinking on the author's part. Go on the website, read the reviews and see for yourself what readers are saying. It's an undeniable testament that this memoir is a story whose time has come.