There are certain historical milestones in life where you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news.
Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. Those of us who are older remember where we were on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
For West Virginians, we remember where we were on Nov. 14, 1970, the night of the Marshall football team plane crash.
Has it really been 50 years? Time is supposed to heal all wounds. For those of us who went to Marshall and worked at Marshall, why does it still hurt so darn much?
I remember exactly where I was. I was a junior in high school. I didn’t know much. I was green and naïve, totally immune to tragedy. Heck, I still had not experienced my first kiss. I didn’t have a driver’s license or a car.
On Nov. 14, 1970, I was in Morgantown for the WVU-Syracuse football game. Bobby Bowden was in his first year as the head coach of the Mountaineers. It was a festive day and a very competitive game as the Mountaineers won 28-19 in front of a crowd of 28,000 at old Mountaineer Field. WVU iced the game on an interception return for a touchdown by senior linebacker Dale Farley.
Spirits were high and the crowd was in a celebratory mood as people left the stadium and began driving home. This was a time before completion of the interstates and the drive from Charleston to Morgantown was a long, dark one.
The DuPont High School football team, and many others across the state, were in attendance that day. I was not a player, but I rode up and back to the game in a car driven by athletic booster “Scotch” Winfree of Campbells Creek. Winfree worked for many years on the chain gang at home football games. He had two sons, Gary and Roger Winfree, who were good athletes at DuPont, and “Scotch” was a beloved fixture at the football and baseball games.
It was a car full of teenage boys who had just seen an exciting game and the mood on the drive home was noisy and festive. State high school championship games were being played that day and we had the radio on trying to pick up college and high school scores.
Then the report came on the radio that “the plane carrying the Marshall football team had crashed in Huntington, West Virginia.” All of a sudden the chatter stopped in our car as we tried to process the news we were hearing. Youthful laughter was replaced by shock and disbelief. Surely, it could not be true.
I felt like I knew the Marshall players personally from watching the Rick Tolley football show hosted by Ken Jones on Monday nights on Channel 13. It was a different time. Very few people pay attention to coach’s shows today, but in 1970 highlights were hard to come by. Jones and Tolley were two of the 75 who were killed in the crash.
The news of the crash seemed like a bad dream. The next few days and weeks, the dream became a reality. Memorial services and funerals seemed as if they would never end. In local towns like Point Pleasant, Ravenswood, Bluefield and St. Albans, communities wept the loss of local stars. Out of state communities such as Ferrum, Virginia and Tuscaloosa, Alabama also still remember.
I had no idea that we would still mourn 50 years later. Where were you when you heard the news on Nov. 14, 1970?