HUNTINGTON — It represents the centerpiece of campus, the town square for the Marshall community if you will. Some students walk by it, oblivious to its real significance here. Others choose to sit on its granite border to read, socialize, or study next to it’s calming waters.
The Marshall Memorial Fountain celebrated its 40th birthday on November 12.
It’s one of the more recognizable icons on the school’s campus. What stories it could tell over the last four decades.
Marshall dedicated the sculpture on November 12, 1972, honoring the 75 victims of the Marshall plane crash who died on November 14, 1970.
Standing more than 13 feet tall and weighing 6,500 pounds, the fountain was created by Italian sculptor Harry Bertoia.
His hope was that it would “commemorate the living--rather than death—on the waters of life, rising, receding, surging so as to express upward growth, immortality and eternality”.
A member of the Marshall University Foundation, Lawrence Tippett, said of the memorial at the dedication:
“Let us move with firm resolve to take up the unfinished tasks of this great institution and find a personal significance and lasting stimulus in this memorial dedication.”
And so we gather here, every November 14, to reflect, remember, and revisit what is perhaps the most significant event in Marshall’s history.
Some might ask of these memorials, “Why still do this so many years later?”
There are so many reasons, beyond the 75 most obvious ones. There’s a solemnity to the ceremony — a sameness that’s comforting on a day that brings back a flood of difficult emotions. Some of us who lost loved ones understand, with each passing day, we continue to see November 15, year after year, unlike those who were taken from us that night.
We go to listen to heartfelt messages from former Marshall players and coaches — from children who lost parents to parents who lost children.
Their recollections are all different … all compelling … all sorrowful. Marshall’s story is one of a kind in college football. It’s one of fortitude and dedication, of heartbreak and hope. It’s something the head coaches for the Thundering Herd make sure their players understand.
If they don’t grasp the meaning of it when they first come to Marshall, they certainly do by the time they leave. That was Doc Holliday’s motivation on a warm night in May. He had an idea, and it wasn’t a publicity grab, or a PR move. He wanted his team to better understand the mosaic of Marshall football.
So he told his strength coach, Joe Miday, to get the players ready for a little early evening run, 1.3 miles up 20th Street (a.k.a. Marshall Memorial Boulevard) to the Spring Hill Cemetery.
“You know we start out when every kid gets here we make them sit down and watch the movie (We Are … Marshall),” Holliday said. “But you know for these kids it was so long ago, I don’t think until they actually get up here and see where the unknown players are buried and they see the monuments, that they really understand it.”
At some schools, players only have to worry about learning the fight song … Not at Marshall.
“You hear about it,” said junior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, a local native from South Point, Ohio, “and they tell you about it, but to come up here and experience it for yourself and you see these graves, it hits you a different way.”
So every November 14, the Marshall family comes together. There are men dressed in suits, and players in Kelly green letter jackets.
When the weather is warm, current students in shorts and flip flops — most not born until 20-25 years after the tragedy — often stop by. Some of them are unaware of what is about to transpire, but they are quickly caught up by those who have attended many of these ceremonies.
There are young and old there, some wide-eyed, some teary eyed, but all here for the same reason.
After the speeches and the traditional laying of the wreaths at the Memorial Fountain, the waters slow to a trickle, then stop … and the silence is deafening.
The fountain is turned off for the winter, not to be revived until spring football like the Young Thundering Herd revived football at Marshall in 1971.
Some stay, to visit and reconnect.
Others go their own way, left to their deep, personal, private thoughts.
The wreaths and flowers are taken to the cemetery as the crowd departs.
But, you can be certain, we will meet here again.
See you every Nov. 14.