Each year on Nov. 14, the victims of the Marshall University plane crash are remembered. Hundreds of people gather around the Memorial Fountain on campus to pause and reflect while the water is silenced and the names of all 75 are read aloud. The feelings of loss, love, community and enduring commitment to one another are palpable.
“No doubt, grief is a major part of the story, but there’s much more to it than that.”
Craig T. Greenlee, who will serve as this year’s keynote speaker for the ceremony, would have been on that fateful DC-9 flight had he not made the decision to step away from football to focus on his education as a sophomore in October 1969. He has never attended a fountain ceremony until now.
“I made the mistake of focusing strictly on the sadness and sorrow of the night Marshall’s plane went down,” Craig said. “I know for sure I would have been a passenger.”
But—sorrow and sadness surrounding the crash was only one part of the story and what Craig experienced.
“I believe it’s important to look back and understand what was happening on the Marshall campus and other college campuses around the country. This was a time of unrest in America. The civil rights movement was still going strong. Protests over the Vietnam War were commonplace.”
That unrest hit a fever pitch on Nov. 13, just one day before the crash, as fights broke out on campus.
“The prime concern was all about protecting yourself from harm and danger,” Craig said. “You got the impression that there would be a confrontation or you would have to retaliate to defend yourself.”
“The following night, emotions were vastly different. The sheer shock of losing so many people that you knew personally was mind-boggling. Deep sorrow and devastation was the order of the day. At that juncture, those feelings of anger and apprehension were replaced by an overwhelming sadness that totally engulfed a campus and its surrounding communities. Racial differences didn’t matter anymore. Grief grabbed hold of every heart and soul connected to Marshall University. The fights from the day before became a foggy memory.”
“There’s no question in my mind that the plane crash averted what could have been a bloody race riot at Marshall,” Craig said.
That’s the story he set out to tell when he penned his book “November Ever After: A memoir of tragedy and triumph in the wake of the 1970 Marshall football plane crash.”
“The situation was just that volatile, but the crash was so shocking, any beef between Blacks and whites became meaningless. The hurt and devastation was all-encompassing. The only things that mattered were finding ways to console one another and figure out what we would do about attending as many funerals as possible.”
Now, 53 years later, Craig will experience his own full-circle Marshall moment. He will take the stage at his first-ever fountain ceremony, to speak about the unimaginable loss that gripped the community, but ultimately binds the hearts of the Marshall family together forever.
“You come to understand that life is truly a gift and that nothing is guaranteed. Even so, there’s every reason to enjoy the life you have—embrace it—and make the most of your skills and abilities. You learn that it’s important to continue moving forward, even in the face of adversity. The aftermath is where the victories are won.”