Stay Tuned
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"We Are Marshall": A Chance to "Get It"

As “We Are Marshall” has its official premiere tonight, I hope you’ll allow me to go a little outside my usual topic…

I admit it. I was one of those people who just didn’t get it.

I couldn’t understand why Marshall University would have a ceremony every year to remember the plane crash that killed 75 members of its family. I couldn’t understand why everyone couldn’t just move on with their lives.

Then in the summer of 1994, I started work as a Staff Writer at The Parthenon, Marshall’s student newspaper. To fill up some space on a page, I wrote a small article about the memorial fountain. While writing the article, I went back into the archives to read about Harry Bertoia and his vision for the sculpture. I also read some of the articles about the crash and it got me to thinking a little more about what the campus went through in 1970.

That fall, the editors of the paper asked me if I would write a two-page article to mark the 24th anniversary of the crash. I jumped at the chance because it was a wonderful opportunity to gain some exposure as a student journalist. But I gained more than exposure and accolades that November. I also gained a new point of view and a newfound respect for what had happened 24 years before…

Because of all the interviews I did during my journalism career, these are the ones I will always remember. I can still hear the calm voice of the former student trainer who gave his place on the plane to another student and was called upon to help identify bodies. I can still hear him telling me how he tried to wrap his mind around the fact that no one survived; and I can still hear my voice asking the question, “So your family thought you were dead?”

I can still hear the pain in the voice of the Marshall graduate who lived in the same dorm as the players and who had to return home because she couldn’t handle living there without them. She had been waiting for my call and she was already in tears when she picked up the phone. I can still remember her hushed, quivering voice trying to answer my questions.

I have to admit that article was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write, because I knew I couldn’t just slap something together. I had to find a way to do justice to the story. I had to do justice to these people who had trusted me enough to share these painful memories. I sat down and tried to figure out how to begin.

And that’s when I got it.

For those of us who were not alive in 1970, it’s hard to comprehend what Marshall and Huntington went through. I’ve experienced grief in my life, but this was something so far off the scale I couldn’t even imagine it. I didn’t understand that this was not just an event that took 75 lives. This was an event that took the entire soul of a community.

Yes, Marshall and Huntington have both managed to move on, but they will never forget.

And they shouldn’t.

It’s important that we pause each year and remember those 75 lives and the entire community’s struggle to “rise from the ashes.” For those of us who weren’t there, “We Are Marshall” will give us just a glimpse and give everyone a chance to “get it.” And I hope that they do…

A few years ago there was some discussion about not doing the memorial service every year. I hope that discussion never comes up again…

In 1995, as a reporter at WMUL, Marshall’s student radio station, I put together a feature for the 25th anniversary of the plane crash. This time, however, I gave the interviews to other reporters, knowing I couldn’t handle them myself. Both reporters came back a little shook up, but I hope they also came back with a better understanding themselves.

At the memorial service that year, Keith Morehouse read a poem that is the only fitting way for me to close this post. I hope Keith won’t mind me using it…

What happened to the school who lost its team, once the players were all gone.
It mourned and grieved, yet still believed that the games they should go on.

A team showed up in ’71. Would Marshall be the same?
The coaches knew. The players too. This was more than just a game.

An incredible loss to come back from. The journey would be long.
But in its quest to be the best, this team was thousands strong.

The wins have come, but the seasons aren’t done. This is everybody’s team.
See we’ve been blessed, unlike the rest, to live our loved one’s dream.