Bearing the Pain during the Midst of Tragedy
On November 14, 1970, it was like a bad dream when a radio bulletin and television newsbreak announced that a plane had crashed in the Appalachian Mountain of West Virginia. Then, it was confirmed that the chartered Southern Airways Flight 932 was carrying the Marshall University Football Team and Coaching Staff plus a group of West Virginia Legislators, civic leaders, and the Southern Airways Flight Crew had crashed claiming 75 souls.
Today, I will be speaking at Dodgen Middle School in Marietta, Georgia because their seventh grade classes are studying the Marshall Plane crash and perseverance as it relates to me. Conversely, I will have a heavy heart knowing that my alma mater will be holding its annual plane crash memorial service around a huge water fountain outside the Marshall University Memorial Student Center. The ceremony honors the Thundering Herd players, coaches, staff, fans and flight crew.
Many years ago, when coach Lengyel was recruiting me for Marshall, he said, “Lester, a lot of schools want you, but we need you. “He said, I will be honest with you. We probably won’t win a lot of games or play for championships, but I need guys like you to re-establish football at Marshall and position it for future success.” I accepted the challenge from coach Lengyel to help raise the Marshall University Football Program from “Ashes to Glory”. However, it was never about me. It was about the guys who prematurely lost their lives playing a game that they loved. I felt obligated to play on their behalf.
As I look back on those years as an undergraduate, I realize now that I needed Marshall more than Marshall needed me.
I learned important life lessons at Marshall. I learned that life is fragile and I learned that life is to be lived to the fullest.
The loss of the 75 souls taught me to never take life for granted. I have learned not to complain about anything because millions would love to have the good and the bad of my life.
For all those whose lost their lives in the ill-fated crash, rest in peace because you have inspired many including me. In your honor, I have accomplished some extraordinary things.
I wear the colors of “Sons and Daughters of Marshall” with Great pride and honor.