VIENNA - Dr. John Ralsten still finds it difficult to talk about the tragedy that gripped a nation 40 years ago on Nov. 14, 1970.
An airplane carrying 75 people, including Marshall University football players, coaches and fans, crashed near Tri-State Airport in Huntington after a football game against East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. Everyone on the plane died.
Among the victims were Ralsten's brother and sister-in-law, Murrill and Helen Ralsten of Huntington. They left behind two young children, Matt and Molly.
Dr. John and Carol Ralsten, Molly Muse and Dr. Matt Ralsten attended the movie premiere of “We Are Marshall” and post-film gala in Huntington in December 2006.
An inspirational story developed from the disaster. Matt, 5, and Molly, 3, came to live with John and Carol Ralsten after the crash, first in Silver Spring, Md., and two years later in Vienna in 1972. They became part of the family.
At the time of the crash, John was working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., after receiving a medical degree from West Virginia University and a four-year residency in radiology at Duke University. A friend of Murrill and Helen contacted John and Carol about the crash.
"We didn't know they were going" to the Marshall-East Carolina football game, John said. "It was a last-minute decision."
Murrill Ralsten, 38, was a Huntington city councilman and owned and operated the Ralsten Ltd. clothing store. Helen, 32, sold women's clothing in the store. Both were Marshall graduates and boosters of the Thundering Herd football program.
Murrill and John had agreed if either of the couples died young, the other would take care of their children. Even though miles separated them, the two couples were close, Carol said.
The Ralstens said it has been a privilege being an important part of Matt and Molly's lives.
"I feel like the luckiest parent alive," Carol said. "They were wonderful kids."
"Matt and Molly show their love and appreciation," John said.
John and Carol Ralsten, "sons of Marshall," will be honored at the Mid-Ohio Valley Marshall University Alumni Association's scholarship fundraiser 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Grand Pointe Conference Center in Vienna. The alumni group hopes to raise enough money for six $1,000 scholarships for local students.
When Matt and Molly came to live with their uncle and aunt, the Ralstens had two children, John and Katie, and Carol was pregnant with Sally.
Carol said it did not take long before Matt and Molly were calling the Ralstens "mom and dad."
Molly (Ralsten) Muse, who lives in Macon, Ga., with her husband, Ed, and their two sons, said she felt blessed and fortunate to have grown up in John and Carol's household in Vienna as one of the five children.
"We loved it," Molly said. "We had a wonderful childhood."
Molly attended Greenmont Elementary, Jackson Junior High and Parkersburg High until her senior year when she went to a college preparatory school in North Carolina. She graduated from the University of Georgia.
John Ralsten, Dr. John and Carol's son, also of Vienna, said he always considered Matt and Molly to be his brother and sister.
Dr. Matt Ralsten, whose obstetrics-gynecology practice is in Peachtree City, Ga., said John and Carol made him feel like one of the family.
"It was a tough situation with them already having children of their own," Matt said. "It was more than anyone can imagine."
Matt attended Greenmont and Jackson before leaving for a college preparatory school in Virginia.
Matt received his medical degree from Marshall after first earning degrees in architecture from Georgia Tech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture and working in the architectural field.
While at Marshall, he attended the yearly memorials for the 1970 crash victims, including his parents.
By chance, in Georgia, he met a family who also lost both parents in the Huntington airplane crash. Matt had spotted a Marshall plate on their vehicle and started talking to them.
Matt and his wife, Tammy, named their twins Murrill and Helen after his parents. Murrill, 11, a football player, has watched the movie "We Are Marshall" with his father.
John and Carol Ralsten attended the 35th and 40th year memorials of the Marshall plane crash. They were moved by the inspirational talks.
Molly, a realtor in Macon, returned to Huntington for a taping of "We Are Marshall" (her part standing at the fountain with relatives did not make the cut) and the movie's premiere.
She enjoyed a conversation with former Marshall assistant football coach Red Dawson, played by actor Matthew Fox in the movie, and talking to people who knew her parents.
On Dec. 12, 2006, John and Carol, Matt and Tammy and Molly and Ed attended the premiere of "We Are Marshall" at the Keith-Albee Theatre in Huntington and the post-film gala at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
Marshall has done a great job of keeping the memory of the tragedy alive, Carol Ralsten said.