“Maybe it’s God’s will or maybe it’s fate, but I believe that tragedy not only brought us together today to celebrate the memory of these wonderful souls, but to teach us just how precious love truly is,” said Student Body Vice President Isabella Griffiths, during her speech at the Fountain Ceremony.
Students, staff, and community members gathered in the rain to remember the tragedy that the Marshall community faced fifty-one years ago when seventy-five members of the Marshall football program were lost to a devastating plane crash on November 14th, 1970.
The ceremony featured speeches from Marshall University’s President Jerome Gilbert, Marshall Football coach Charles Huff, and others. The ceremonies’ keynote speaker Mr. Mark Miller, a member of the Young Thundering Herd back in 1971, came forward to tell the community of how the plane crash changed his life.
Miller told his story of how he became One of The Herd, via a phone call to Coach Red Dawson by an old friend.
Miller made the commitment, knowing little about the University and never having visited the campus.
For three months, Miller was with the varsity football team.
“We were basically, our job was individual and team opposition for the varsity during practice,” said Miller. “We lived together in the dorm, we ate together at the training table, and we practiced together. We quickly grew close to our teammates and looked up to them in many ways. We had become family by mid-November as we prepared for the East Carolina game. We were there to see them off on Friday the 13th as they. boarded the bus for the short trip out to the airport to catch southern flight 932 for the flight down to Greenville, North Carolina,” said Miller.
He went home that weekend.
Decided to attend a Church Service to see some of his old high school friends, and when he arrived home the message informing the public of a plane crash flashed across the television.
“So, to answer the question that we have all asked, where were you on November the 14th between 6:00 and 8:00p.m. I was in church,” said Miller.
The family remained glued to the television awaiting more details to confirm the suspicion that they already had.
When the confirmation flashed on televisions across the community, many people came to their house to console his parents.
They had thought that he too was on the plane.
Miller locked himself in his room, unsure of how to handle the shock, and feelings of grief and sadness.
“Upon arriving back on campus, we spent several days attending memorial services and funerals, something I had never been to before. Parents of our fallen teammates came to the dorm to collect their personal items; they would ask members of the freshman seventy team; what was he doing for the weeks prior? What’s this item in his room and the significance of it?” said Miller.
The struggles Miller would face had just begun, and he had a long journey ahead of him. In his time recovering, Miller dealt with emotions he did not understand.
“ I had never experienced such sadness, I truly struggled daily. I felt guilt if I laughed aloud or enjoyed anything, I wasn’t sure about the future of our team, or if we’d even have a team again. Campus was covered with sadness, silence prevailed, classes were cancelled, lack of direction was prevalent… Faith, hope, and after sometime a personal and team commitment was made to rebuild as that’s what our fallen teammates would want,” said Miller.
When They decided to rebuild Miller made the commitment as so many others did to honor his teammates through the new program.
He still does not understand why this tragedy happened, why here or to this family.
Miller explained that some things can’t be understood.
“There are no words that I can share today that will explain the why of this tragic loss. No words that will ensure peace of mind to the families and friends. Personally, as an 18-year-old member of the freshman team, I struggled with the reality of what occurred. Why did this happen? I experienced survivors’ guilt, overwhelming sadness, feelings of inadequacy. How best to honor those lost? to comfort their families? How can we identify the best approach to heal and to move forward?” said Miller.
Miller explains his coping of these feelings through a song written by Chris Stapleton, titled Broken Halos.
In his speech he quoted a few lines. “Seen my share of broken halos, folded wings that used to fly there all gone wherever they go, broken halos that used to shine. Don’t go looking for the reasons, don’t go asking Jesus why? We are not meant to know the answers they belong to by and by… Why did God allow our families, our University, our community to suffer such a tragedy. Were not meant to know the answers, they belong to the by and by,” said Miller.
After the speeches, the fountain was turned off, and players, family, and students approached the fountain to place seventy-five white roses.