I may be an Ohio resident, but I live mere minutes away from Marshall University. I’ve never been a fan of the university, I suppose due to the local hype. In fact, when it came time to choose a college, I literally quit taking the ACT after my second try because I was one point away from being offered a full ride scholarship. My parents enforced the belief that no matter what school offered me a full ride first, I better accept it… otherwise I could just pay for college myself. The Marshall hype was also increased when Huntington became home to the film cast and crew for the We are Marshall movie. For months, everyone was tripping over themselves to catch a glimpse of Matthew McConaughey jogging in the park or trying to get a bit part as an extra in crowd scenes. To me, it was annoying.
Annoying. I didn’t see it as such a big deal really. So what? It was just a movie.
The problem is this – Yes, We are Marshall is a movie… but it’s a movie based off a real story. It’s a story I’ve heard a million times growing up in this area. In 1970, the Marshall football team was heading back home to Huntington, WV from a game from North Carolina. The aircraft was carrying the entire football team (minus a few members who had stayed home due to injury), the coaches, fans, and airline crew. As it neared the local airport, the plane unexpectedly crashed, killing all 75 people aboard. This crash is often a topic of discussion for my parents, especially when they meet people from out of town who may have heard of the movie. They reflect on where they were at when they heard the plane had crashed. My father recalls seeing the flames from the crash and believing that the oil refinery had had an explosion. Never been to Huntington? They’ll take you on a tour of all the local landmarks seen in the film. “Here’s the theatre the boys run out of when they hear about the crash. Funny fact – in the movie when they run out and jump in the car to head towards the airport, they’re driving the wrong way. The airport is in the opposite direction!”
When I was younger, I would often roll my eyes when I felt like I was hearing this all for the billionth time. It’s not until recently that I’ve realized why this event would be so important to my family. It’s one of those tragedies that will stick with you for the rest of your life. You may not be in any way, shape, or form connected to anyone involved, but you feel the collective grief and never forget where you were at when it happened. The Marshall plane crash to me was just another story because I could not relate. I wasn’t even alive to have those memories. To my parents, those memories will always be etched in their minds.
It is now, on the eve of September 11, that I realize the impact these horrific tragedies can have on a person. How will I ever convey to my children the horror and fear I felt when the planes crashed into the towers? To them, it may just be another story I tell a million times, something they will only be able to see through pictures and videos. They will not identify with the shared experience felt by all of America as we all struggled to comprehend what had happened to our country and what it meant for our futures. Will my children roll their eyes at me? Will they feel an annoyance at going to visit the memorial site one day?
I visited the Marshall memorial this evening with my family, making sure to bring along my camera. We’d come to see the 3,000 flags placed in the cemetery for Labor Day. While we were there, a memorial was being held for the Marshall victims. The attendees lit 75 candles for the 75 lost aboard that plane, and then placed 75 flags among the 3,000. While there, I actually took the time to consider how it must have felt to have seen the flames from the crash rising over Huntington. It’s not a big place, most people knew someone involved. My mother’s doctor was even on board the plane that evening. Tragedies happen when we least expect them, and by passing on our stories to those who weren’t there to experience it, it is ensured that those moments will never be forgotten.