The Graves of Six Marshall Football Players
by Randy Snow
Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Sunday, July 26, 2015
If you have ever seen the movie, We Are Marshall, then you know the tragic story of what happened to the Marshall University football team on November 14, 1970. A chartered plane that was carrying the team back to Huntington, WV from Greenville, NC, crashed on the outskirts of Huntington, killing all 75 people on-board. The team was returning home following a 17-14 loss to East Carolina University.
My son and I were traveling through Maryland and West Virginia on our way to Ohio recently when I realized that the GPS was taking us right by Huntington, WV, home of the Marshall Thundering Herd. I had been wanting to visit the Marshall Football player’s graves for several years, but I was totally unprepared to visit Huntington on this particular day. I usually do my homework prior to making a graveside visit. I go to www.findagrave.com and get the address of the cemetery (for the GPS) and a rough idea of where the grave is located within the cemetery, if possible, i.e. the section and lot number. I didn’t even know the name of the cemetery that we were looking for on this particular day.
Even though I didn’t have all the information for a successful visit, I could not pass up the opportunity to try, since we were already here. As we drove through the city of Huntington we looked for any signs that might lead us to the graves. I was getting a bit discouraged until I saw a sign that said Visitor Center.
“They’ll know where the graves are,” I thought, so we stopped and went in. There was a young man sitting behind a desk in a large room filled with maps and brochures all over the place. I told him I was looking for the graves of the Marshall Football players. “Oh, you want our We Are Marshall locations brochure,” he said. Sure enough, it was exactly what I needed.
It was a pamphlet with locations marked all around town where the 2006 movie was filmed, including Spring Hill Cemetery on the south side of town. Now I knew the name of the cemetery and its location, but not how to find the graves within the cemetery. I knew what it looked like from seeing the movie, so I figured I could find it simply by driving around a bit.
Springhill Cemetery is aptly names because it sits on top of a hill that overlooks the city of Huntington. Once we entered the cemetery we immediately saw a sign clearly pointing the way to the site of the graves and memorial to the Marshall Football players.
The first thing I noticed as we approached the gravesite was the 10-foot tall grey monument at the top of a hill. On the front, these words are etched; “They shall live on in the hearts of their families and friends forever and this memorial records their loss to the university and to the community.” Also on the front are the names of six players who could not be positively identified after the crash; Thomas Wayne Brown, Kevin Francis Gilmore, David Dearing Griffith, Jr., Barry Winston Nash, Allen Gene Skeens and Thomas Jonathan Zborill. They are buried in a semi-circle in front of the monument.
In one famous scene from the movie that was shot at the gravesite, actor Matthew McConaughey, who played Marshal head coach Jack Lengyel, referred to the players as Six Sons of Marshall. Lengyel rebuilt the team following the crash.
On the sides and back of the monument are the names of the rest of the players who died in the plane crash and others including head coach Rick Tolley and his coaching staff, the flight crew of the plane, alumni and friends.
It was quite a moving experience to visit the Springhill Cemetery. It is a reminder that football is a great sport, but there are greater things in life, like family and friends, and that we should make the most of everyday that we have with them. The city has done a great job of honoring those who died in the plane crash.
If you are ever in Huntington, don’t hesitate to stop and visit the grave site.
A Link to the 1970 Team Memorial on the School’s Official Web Site