Virginia Tech Hosts Marshall on Saturday and Will Honor a Hokie Killed in the 1970 Plane Crash

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- On the Marshall University campus, there are lasting reminders of the 1970 plane crash that took the lives of 75 people, most of them Marshall players, coaches and fans. There are plaques in the student center and outside the football stadium. In the center of campus, there is a memorial fountain where a service is held each year. A downtown restaurant has a room dedicated to the team, with pictures of the players and coaches.

On the Virginia Tech campus, there will be more signs of remembrance Saturday when the Thundering Herd (1-0) takes on No. 14 Virginia Tech (0-1) at Lane Stadium. The Hokies will wear helmets with a throwback logo that are replicas of those worn when Frank Loria was an all-American safety at Virginia Tech in the 1960s. In 1970, Loria was a member of Marshall's coaching staff and died in the crash.

Loria "was a great football player and a great person, a real leader," said Hokies Coach Frank Beamer, who played alongside Loria at Virginia Tech. "He didn't talk much but when he did, you listened to him. I thought he was on his way to be a great coach."

On the field, both teams will be looking to reassert themselves after stumbling out of the gate. In a 34-24 loss to Alabama last Saturday, Virginia Tech squandered an opportunity to stake its spot in the national title picture and sputtered on offense. The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, scraped out a 31-28 win over Southern Illinois, a nationally ranked division I-AA opponent.

Regardless of the outcome, Marshall will receive a warm welcome as the Hokies honor Loria and those who died in the crash.

"I think it will mean a lot to our fans," Marshall Coach Mark Snyder said, adding, "I think this a great thing Virginia Tech is doing."

The gesture links two universities that have been touched by tragedies. The resonance of the crash at Marshall mirrors the effect the 2007 shooting has had on Virginia Tech. On Virginia Tech's campus, there is a memorial outside the Burruss Hall administration building, and there have been candlelight vigils each year to commemorate the April 16 anniversary. Commemorative ribbons are still frequently seen around Blacksburg.

"Remembrance of what transpired a couple of years ago is now part of our culture," Ishwar K. Puri, a professor and department head of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech, said in August after the off-campus shooting death of two students again shook the community. "The culture is kept alive by alumni, faculty members and staff members. There's a significant portion of them who have not forgotten."

Although a similar culture of remembrance has not subsided at Marshall in almost 40 years since the crash, the school's football identity recently has been tied to its high-profile career placement. Near the football coaches' offices here, there are framed NFL jerseys bearing names such as Moss, Pennington and Leftwich hanging on the walls. But it took the 2006 movie "We Are Marshall," about the crash and its aftermath, to spotlight the incident for a younger generation.

On Nov. 14, 1970, after the Thundering Herd's 17-14 loss at East Carolina, the team-chartered airplane crashed just minutes from the Tri-State Airport near Huntington. At the scene of the accident, West Virginia Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. reportedly called it "a tragedy of the highest degree."

Loria was the first Virginia Tech player to be named first-team all-American in back-to-back seasons, in 1966 and 1967. He joined the Marshall coaching staff in 1969. When Loria died in 1970, he was survived by his pregnant wife, Vickie, and two young daughters who barely knew him.

"It means the world to us they still remember our dad," his son, Frank Jr., who was born a month and a half after the crash, said of Virginia Tech's gesture. "Even though we're outsiders, for us to be a part of the team, it means everything to us. We didn't know him, but this is one of the things we get to know him by."

On Saturday, as the Hokies honor Loria, the kindred spirits of two schools that have been afflicted by catastrophe will be united. As the teams take the field, Frank Loria Jr. said he would be thinking about the Virginia Tech families that lost loved ones in the 2007 shooting and hoping they were able to use the tragedy to strengthen their lives. He said he would also be thinking members of "my Marshall family" who have lived in dedication to those who died in the crash.

"I will probably have a few tears," he said, "but also a big smile."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company