HUNTINGTON — On Saturday, hundreds gathered in Huntington in socially distanced fashion for the Memorial Fountain Ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash that killed all 75 people aboard Southern Airways Flight 932.
Many wore their kelly green.
Others wore black.
However, four men standing together wore purple and gold.
These men — Rusty Scales, Richard Peeler, Grover Truslow and Chuck Zadnik — played for East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970.
On that afternoon, they wanted nothing more than to destroy Marshall’s football team on the field.
Hours later, they wanted nothing more than to have the opportunity to face them once again.
Fifty years later, those four men represented East Carolina to honor their adversaries who perished after the 17-14 East Carolina win on that fateful Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“We just felt like we needed to come up here, and there were several more who wanted to come,” Peeler said. “Marshall has got a special place in our heart because of what happened. It seems like every year we get a little bit older and we think more about it. It becomes a more important part of our life.”
The idea to venture to Huntington came after Peeler and his teammates spoke to WSAZ-TV’s Keith Morehouse in Greenville, North Carolina, for a 50th anniversary tribute.
All four said it was important they represent the Pirates, who are forever linked to the Herd through the tragedy.
“This is something we’ve lived with for 50 years, too,” said Zadnik. “Certainly not as much as the town of Huntington, but as a 20-year-old kid, having that happen to you, it stays with you.”
Zadnik recalled walking into a gathering following the Pirates’ 17-14 win over the Herd and someone telling him that Marshall’s plane had crashed.
“I said, ‘That’s not a joking matter. Don’t come in and say something like that happened,’” Zadnik said. “Sure enough, the coaches got us (together) that night for a memorial service, and we had another the next day. Our president and our head coach were (in Huntington) in time for the Sunday service.”
All the players remembered that late-night makeshift memorial service that was called by their coaching staff. It was a time that changed many of their lives.
“Ninety percent of us can tell you where we were and who came to get us to go,” said Scales, who was a running back for ECU. “We all met on the main campus in the auditorium — coaches brought us all in at 2 o’clock that morning — to talk to us.”
Truslow said it was a day that will never be forgotten for those associated with East Carolina, just as it is with Marshall.
“It was quite impactful to us as 20-year-old young people to have tragedy like that,” Truslow said. “Most of us had never experienced death in our families like that, so it was a tough thing emotionally to deal with.”
Saturday served as a bit of a healing process for those teammates and friends as they completed the trek from Greenville to Huntington to pay their respects by laying a rose on the fountain during the ceremony.
“When I carried that rose up there, it brought tears to my eyes,” Peeler said. “It was very special.”
“It’s an honor for us,” Scales said. “We felt inspired by it. I think about it all the time. It’s so important. It’s part of our life.”