Family, friends and members of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 1968 gathered Saturday in Heavner Cemetery to celebrate the life of John Patton Young, a standout Buccaneer football player who died in the tragic Marshall University plan crash on Nov. 14, 1970 near Huntington, W.Va.

‘He could have done anything’: Family, classmates honor John Young on 50th anniversary of Marshall plane crash

BUCKHANNNON – John Patton Young may have lived just two decades, but he packed a lot of life into those 20 years.

So much so that on the 50th anniversary of his death Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, his family, friends, classmates and yes, even competitors, had handfuls of vivid memories of Young, whom his nephew Bo Waddell described as “kind, considerate and a little ornery … with a strong heart.”

John Young’s nephew, Bo Waddell, speaks at Saturday’s commemoration. Also pictured is the Rev. Ed Lowther, who delivered remarks and the opening prayer.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, members of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 1968 and others with fond memories of Young gathered to celebrate his life in the Heavner Cemetery. The commemoration marked 50 years since Young and members of the 1970 Marshall University Thundering Herd Football team perished in a tragic plane crash that killed 75 people including players, coaches and Booster members, as they were returning from an away game at East Carolina University.

The crash happened just short of the runway near Huntington’s Tri-State Airport.

“Seventy-five souls lost their lives that evening, including 37 team members, eight coaching staff members, 25 Boosters and five flight crew members,” Waddell said.

At Saturday’s somber memorial, the Rev. Ed Lowther with South Buckhannon Mission Church – a friend of Young’s family – shared an opening prayer and scripture, saying John’s friends and family could have hope they would see him again.

Then, Waddell opened up the program by inviting people to reminisce about Young.

“I have had many people share memories that have of John throughout the years, and those comments always touched my heart and gave me reason to carry on his tradition,” Waddell said. “I try to instill [his spirit] into my daughter, who is involved in sports, and I hope it helped her in her endeavors.”

They had colorful memories of boat rides and piggyback races with John, and Waddell shared good-natured pranks his uncle pulled on him while Young stayed with his family in Huntington during the football star’s studies at Marshall.

“A lot of people don’t live as much life as he did in 20 years, so I think we’ve got to hold that dear,” one former classmate said.

“He was the nicest guy I ever met,” another remarked. “It really hurt me when that accident happened because what a loss … he could have been anyone; he could have done anything.”

The event took place at Young’s gravestone in the Heavner Cemetery Saturday.

Beth Waddell, Young’s niece, placed a green-and-white Thundering Herd wreath on Young’s grave to conclude Saturday’s memorial.

Young, who played tight end for the state champion 1966 football Buccaneers, was a sophomore with the Thundering Herd when the plane crashed. Every year since 1971, the John Young Award has been bestowed upon the best senior male athlete at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. The winners are recognized with a plaque and included in a trophy case at the school.

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