Write Again … That tragic day in November

Published 5:26 pm Monday, March 3, 2014

Our friends Penny and Johnnie, whom we have known since our Manteo-Roanoke Island-Outer Banks days, are truly loyal ECU alumni.

To say they are fervid Pirate supporters is an understatement.

When Penny told me of their trip last November for the Marshall game, and the places there they saw and visited, I asked her to please write down for me what she had told me.

So, kind readers, please let me share with you Penny’s account of their trip:

“Johnnie and I had a nice Thanksgiving this year. We went somewhere I had never been before but had always wanted to go for over forty years.

“We went to Huntington, West Virginia, to attend the East Carolina-Marshall football game on November 29, 2013.

Johnnie and I were at Ficklen Stadium in 1970 when Marshall flew to Greenville to play East Carolina. After the game we spent the night in Edenton with my mother instead of driving back to the Outer Banks.

“We turned on the television to watch the eleven o’clock news. My husband wanted to see the sports. East Carolina had won the game. While we were waiting for the news a program was interrupted with ‘Breaking


“The chartered plane carrying everyone (players, coaches, friends, and flight crew) had crashed killing all 75 on board.

“It was hard to believe that all the young men we had seen a few hours ago were gone.

“Ever since that terrible accident I have always wanted to go to Marshall and pay my respects.

“We were looking forward to the game on Friday. We had only lost two games. East Carolina was picked to win.

“I was not looking forward to sitting in the bleachers because on our way to Huntington it had snowed. It was very cold. To our pleasant surprise the weather warmed up. It was sunny and very nice for the noon kickoff.

“Unfortunately, the weather was better than the final score. The Thundering Herd played a great game. I don’t like to lose, but for some reason I do not mind losing to Marshall.

“After the game we walked in our “Purple and Gold” across the parking lot.

“The Marshall fans were so nice. They made us feel so special when we told them we had been at the 1970 game.  We asked someone in the group where the Memorial Fountain was located. A father and his son walked us to the location. The Fountain is turned on in the spring. It is turned off on the anniversary of the crash.

“The next day we asked directions to the cemetery. After you enter the gates there is a sign pointing to the Marshall Memorial. The spot is lovely. The marker has the names of the coaches on one side, the players on another side, the fans on the next side, and the flight crew on a side.

It was very emotional. An East Carolina couple was leaving as we arrived.

“There were ticket stubs and a program from yesterday’s game. There was also an East Carolina pom-pom along with flowers, a gold rock with purple letters that said ECU, three quarters (75 cents) for the seventy-five that died in the crash, a Pirate Club sticker, etc. around the base of the memorial and in front of the monument there is a flat grave marker with six names. To the left of that marker a plain marker. To the right there is another one. This is for the six people whose remains could not be identified.  “There are several tombstones with the coaches’ names and dates on the same hill. Their wives’ names are also there so they can be buried by their husbands.

“After we left the cemetery we drove to the airport. The woman behind the desk told my husband that her mother was washing dishes when she heard the plane go over.  “She realized the plane was too low. Her family was one of the first groups of people to arrive at the crash site. There was nothing they could do. She told us how to get to the crash site.

“It is close to the airport. The team was almost home.  There is a wooden platform painted green. At the platform there is an American flag and a Marshall flag flying. To the right of the platform is the hill. It is not that high.

“I said a prayer at each place we went. It was an emotional experience. I thought about all the families that had lost a loved one. I am glad we went even though it was a sad time.”

Note: As they say up in that part of West Virginia, “We are Marshall!” (And I, too, was at that game on that fateful day in 1970.)