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Marshall tragedy still spurs memories

Fifty years ago this Saturday, Americans were united in the worst possible way — grief over what had happened near the airport near Huntington, W.Va. An airliner carrying nearly all members of the Marshall University football team crashed.

All 75 people aboard perished.

Expressions of condolence poured in from throughout the world. They were a comfort — but the pain ran deep. It touched many at what then was a university small enough that each and every person who earned a degree — 1,527 of them in 1970 — had his or her name listed in the graduation program.

To this day, the sadness lingers. Sharp memories of the Nov. 14, 1970, tragedy are still with many who were at Marshall that day. A campus memorial to the victims features a fountain with 75 separate water nozzles. Each Nov. 14, the fountain is turned off for the winter.

What occurred that terrible fall brought the Marshall community the heartfelt sympathy of tens of millions of people. What happened next earned wonder, admiration and respect.

Marshall’s Thundering Herd football team had been destroyed. The entire university had suffered an emotionally debilitating blow. Huntington as a community felt the pain — as did compassionate people everywhere.

Sports enthusiasts understand building a university-level football team takes enormous effort — and a significant amount of time. But by fall 1971, Marshall had fielded a new football team. They battled on the gridiron as thousands in the stands chanted what has become symbolic of refusal to give up in the face of tragedy and adversity:

We are … Marshall!

University officials felt it was important to the morale of students, employees and the wider community to rebuild the team. It was. It was a reminder of the power of the resilient human spirit.

It was about Marshall — and much more.

We mourn those lost to us, we keep them in our hearts — and we refuse to give up. We get back in the battle.

In a way, we all … are Marshall.

Now, as we mourn the loss of nearly a quarter-million of our fellow Americans to a horrifying epidemic, is a good time to think about that.

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