UPDATE 11/14/13 @ 6:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's an annual tradition unlike any other. For more than four decades, friends and family of those who died in the worst disaster in sports history gather to remember the 75 lives that were taken too soon.
"We all share the realization that although were remembering an event that occurred 43 years ago, time has not diminished its significances," Marshall University Alumni Association Executive Director Matt Hayes said.
A record crowd of more than 3,000 people gathered at Marshall's memorial fountain Thursday, November 14, to honor each of the victims and to remember that fateful day that forever changed not only Marshall University, but all of Huntington.
John Proctor served as this year's keynote speaker. He, like so many others, lost both of his parents in the crash. He says it's what happened since the tragedy that has really defined the university.
"Even though we come to remember the tragedy that happened 43 years ago," Proctor said, "this community, this college was able to rise and step forward.
"Life's hard. Anyone my age and older knows you're going to take it on the chin, but what's important is how you recover from that."
One group was noticeably absent today. Marshall's current football team missed the ceremony for the first time in school history. But while they may not have been there in person, the team was still able to watch a live stream of the ceremony from Tulsa, where the team will play Thursday night.
Former players like Reggie Oliver say it was a bit odd not seeing the team at the event. "It was strange to know the team was away playing on the anniversary of the plane crash," Oliver said. "You wonder how many of them will have butterflies as they approach the plane ride, and how many more might have those same butterflies as they return to Huntington, West Virginia on a night flight on the same day that 43 years ago their teammates lost their lives."
The team plans to honor the 75 victims of the crash by wearing special helmets with the number "75" in the game against Tulsa.
"I don't think there should ever be a year that passes that we don't pay homage to the people that made possible all of the things we accomplished and what they sacrificed for this university. We should never forget," Oliver said.
Kickoff between Marshall and Tulsa was moved back to 7:36 p.m., the same time of the plane crash 43 years ago.
John Proctor, who was five years old when the plane crashed, was the youngest of five sons and daughters of H.D. “Pete” Proctor and his wife, Courtney Josephine Proctor, both of whom died in the crash.
The other surviving children were John’s sister Courtney, who was six; his sister Patricia, who was eight; his brother, Jim, who was 17, and his sister Kim, who was 19.
The service, conducted by Marshall’s Student Government Association, starts at noon Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Memorial Student Center plaza.
The service will conclude with the placing of the memorial wreath at the Memorial Fountain. The fountain will be silenced after the laying of the wreath, and remain silent until next spring.
The crash on Saturday, Nov. 14, 1970, occurred at about 7:47 p.m. when a DC-9 jetliner, returning Marshall home from its football game at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., clipped some treetops just short of Tri-State Airport and went down.
Victims included Marshall football players, coaches, staff and supporters, along with the crew of five.
The Marshall football team will be watching from Tulsa, Okla., where it will play the University of Tulsa Thursday night.
The schools announced Thursday that kickoff is now set for 7:36 p.m. EST to mark the exact anniversary of the crash.
Thursday's game marks the first road contest for Marshall on the plane crash's anniversary.
For those who can’t attend, the service will be streamed live. Click the link below the MU logo to watch the stream.
At 6:30 p.m., the SGA will conduct the first Memorial Service Site Visit. Anyone interested in boarding a bus that will take them to the crash site near Tri-State Airport may do so at that time.