Eastern Kentucky Man Shares Memories Of Marshall Plane Crash

By: Angela Sparkman Email
By: Angela Sparkman Email

The movie "We Are Marshall" is stirring a lot of emotions for those who were close to the Marshall Football program the year the plane crash happened. Some of those are here in Eastern Kentucky.

November 14th, 1970 is a day many people remember, or at least have heard about. It's the day many lost loved ones and a football program was almost destroyed. One Eastern Kentuckian who was a part of the Marshall Football program talked to me about that day and what happened when they got back on the field.

These days, Mark Miller spends his time watching rock, dirt, and bulldozers. It sounds unusual, but it's his job as Whayne Supply Manager in Pikeville. But back in his younger days, he spent time on the football field. First as quarterback at Prestonsburg, and then after graduation in 1970, Marshall offered him a spot on the team.

"I was excited about staying locally and getting an opportunity to play football," Mark said.

He spent his first year on the freshman team. NCAA rules at the time didn't allow freshman on the varsity squad. On a Friday the 13th in November, Miller went home to Prestonsburg, while the varsity team flew to East Carolina. The next day after the game, the team didn't make it back.

"On the return trip home, short of the runway about a mile short of the runway, the plane crashed and all 75 people on board were tragically killed," Mark said.

Miller's cousin, Keith Hall, was only 8 at the time, but he remembers the day well. He and his parents didn't know Mark wasn't on the plane.

"I remember the trauma, same trauma anybody would have knowing somebody in their family was injured or killed in an accident. The pain that many people lived," Keith said.

His pain was short lived.

"I remember also the relief upon finding shortly thereafter that Mark was not on the plane," Keith said.

But for Miller, his pain was just beginning.

"It was very emotional time for the entire community and the school and for me as well, and I was only 18 years old," Mark said.

Miller didn't go back for a few days, he couldn't.

"The university had been shut down, the coaching staff was obviously gone, the majority of the new administrative people at the university were gone, and the town was in shock," Mark said.

He eventually made his way back to Marshall and onto the football field. The program was rebuilding. Heaven's Herd was gone but the nicknamed Young Thundering Herd would play on.

"We had 15 returning freshman from that first year. Three varsity, that had not been on the plane and returned and played and junior college transfers and recruits and walk-ons to build I think an 84 member team in 1971," Mark said.

Miller switched from quarterback to linebacker. He says for all of them on the team, just being back on the field was enough.

"Ashes to glory. It's a great rebuilding story. The tragedy yes, but the pride and the spirit of the university and the area to come back and get that team back on the field," Mark said.

They didn't win as many games as they wanted, but they were playing again.

Now Hollywood is telling their story.

"I'm excited about this movie coming out. I think this is a story our area needs to see told," Miller said.

Miller has already seen the movie, part of his past life on the big screen.

"Although it's got a lot of Hollywood in the movie, there's a lot of truth in the movie and I think the story needed to be told. It's time for this story. It's been 36 years," he said.

36 years may have gone by, but for these guys, they will never forget.

"I go back today and visit for a ball game and walk across campus. It's very a presence. It is always there at Marshall. Always will be," Miller said.

They sometimes call Heaven's Herd the twelfth man on the field. The twelfth man who helped bring back the football program.

"Go from the losing team of the 70's to the winning team of the 90's in Division One football, that's quite a tribute to Marshall," Mark said.

A tribute to 75 people who lost their lives, but might have been proud to see Marshall Football, ashes to glory.

Mark Miller doesn't like to talk much about the crash and the days following, so we would like to thank him for sharing his story. He also wants everyone to see the movie.

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