“In the middle of Huntington, West Virginia, there’s a river. Next to this river, there is a steel mill. And next to the steel mill, there is a school. In the middle of the school, there is a fountain. Each year on the exact same day, at the exact same hour, the water to this fountain is turned off. And in this moment once every year, throughout the town, throughout the school, time stands still.”
Chances are, you know these lines from the movie “We Are Marshall.” Chances are, you also know of the disaster that inspired that quote. But, did you know that Mason County lost two of our own in that awful tragedy?
On Nov. 14, 1970, the Marshall Thundering Herd had just lost to the East Carolina Pirates 17-14, and the team was travelling back to Huntington. On board Southern Airways Flight 932 were 75 people: 37 players, 10 coaches and staff members, another student, the admissions director for Marshall, 21 supporters of the team, and 5 flight crew members. This was the only flight that year for the Thundering Herd, as most games were within driving distance.
For most of the flight, there were no problems. The takeoff was routine, and the pilots were humorous in the “black box” recording. They frequently checked the weather with both the Charleston and Huntington airports, making sure that they could safely land. At Huntington, the weather was described as overcast with light rain and fog, not unusual for our region in November.
Upon approach to Tri-State Airport, the flight crew reported passing the outer markers, but never saw the lights of the airport itself. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, when the plane was roughly a mile out from the runway, it collided with the tops of trees, “dipped to the right, almost flipped, and crashed into a hollow nose-first.” Upon seeing a red glow past the runway, the airport officials initiated emergency procedures. Emergency personnel found no survivors at the crash site. Two of those lost were James “Tom” Howard Jr., a relation to the Howards of New Haven, and Barry Winston Nash, a graduate of PPHS and native of Henderson. Howard’s body was identified and later buried at Graham Station in New Haven, but Barry Nash was unidentifiable and buried with 5 others at Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington.
The next day, a memorial service was held at the Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse (now demolished), and upcoming classes and events were canceled. A week after the crash, another memorial service was held at Marshall’s Fairfield Stadium. Many remember that for weeks after the crash, funerals were being held almost daily, and had to be scheduled to avoid conflicts.
Because of the devastating loss to the team and community, the football program was almost canceled at Marshall, but fans and students persuaded President Dedmon to reconsider. The next year, coaches Jack Lengyel and Red Dawson brought together a team, known as the Young Thundering Herd. In the Spring of 1971, President Richard Nixon wrote them, “Friends across the land will be rooting for you, but whatever the season brings, you have already won your greatest victory by putting the 1971 varsity on the field.” They would later win two games that season.
In the years since, Marshall has never forgotten the 75. From the memorial at Spring Hill Cemetery to the Memorial Fountain on campus, the friends and family lost in the crash are remembered. Four days ago, the fountain was turned off until the spring, and a memorial service was held at the crash site, but their memory will continue to be present at every Marshall University function. Because in Huntington, it’s not just about football. It’s about being one family, one Herd, and never giving up. We are Marshall.
Information from the Marshall University Archives and the NTSB.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 6:30 p.m. Location to be announced.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.