Memorial event pays tribute to crash victims

Published 11:35 pm Saturday, November 15, 2008

It was two years after the 1970 plane crash that wiped out almost all of the Marshall University’s football team that Joe Feaganes came to work at the university as the golf coach.

He knew quite a few of those 75 who lost their lives and coming back each year to the annual memorial service is just his way of paying tribute to them.

“It is something we can never forget. You remember the sacrifice they all made for Marshall University,” Feaganes, now director of golf, said as he waited for this year’s service to begin on Friday.

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Under slightly cloudy skies on an unusually warm November day, students, alumni, faculty and the community gathered in front of the Memorial Fountain at noon to remember the tragedy that ripped through the Tri-State.

Each year on Nov. 14, the anniversary of the deadliest crash in college sports history, the university has conducted a ceremony where the memorial fountain is turned off for the winter.

Student president Matt James began the ceremony saying all were there to honor “those 75 whose memories have permanently shaped the character of Marshall University. Their story will continue to be told.”

Joining James on the dais were MU President Stephen Kopp, MU football coach Mark Snyder and CNN correspondent Joe Johns, the keynote speaker.

Snyder made reference to the Hollywood movie, “We Are Marshall,” which told the story of the plane crash and the rebuilding of the football program. He said the movie was another step in the long healing process the university and the community has undergone.

Johns, who graduated from Marshall in 1980, said he remembered seeing the news reports about the crash as a young teen living in Columbus.

“You remember this day,” Johns said. “It becomes a part of you. We honor the tradition. It begins with that fountain.”

He described the 6,500-pound bronze and copper fountain that lies outside the student center as a symbol of looking forward as “its waters of life” symbolize immortality and eternity.

When he was a student on campus, the memories were still raw, he recalled.

“There was a lot of pain on campus and in the community,” Johns said. “You couldn’t let go. It was too soon. This was one of the worst things to happen on an American campus.”

He compared it to the recent mass shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

“That gives you some sense of the punch in the gut the university and community felt,” he said.

Yet he has watched the university move forward and commended it for the quality of education it has provided over the decades.

“That has launched the careers of some incredible professionals. All of whom got their start here,” the veteran journalist said.

After the hour-long service, during which a wreath and roses for the victims were placed on the fountain moat, Johns talked about the current political scene.

First on the agenda for the upcoming administration will be the current economic challenge. Banks will have to start lending again and then a stimulus package will have to be passed, Johns said.

As far as Appalachia, Johns sees the strong representation the area, especially West Virginia, has in the Senate helping the region.

“You will see attention to some things that is pretty dramatic,” he said.