Larry Reece kept the piece of paper with the scribbled-down names from that horrible night. Andre Williams tattooed the numbers of his best friends on his back. James Halligan decided to wear his orange ribbon pin forever.
Later this week will mark the 10th anniversary of the plane crash that killed 10 members of the OSU basketball family. That winter night marked the darkest chapter in our state's sports history. Ten lives were lost in one terrible instant.
In the days that followed, we made a vow — we will remember.
In many ways, we have done just that. We still pause to commemorate the day of the crash. We still stop to look at the memorial in the Gallagher-Iba Arena lobby. We still see the banner hanging from the arena rafters and say a quick prayer.
We still remember.
But several who promised to never forget have kept the vow like few have. Some of their stories are featured in a moving documentary that debuts today on our website, NewsOK.com.
Larry Reece, the public address announcer for OSU football and basketball, remembers vividly the night of the crash. A friend called to say that one of three team planes had been reported missing on the trip back from the game at Colorado.
Reece raced to the Stillwater airport.
Because the two other planes had returned safely and those aboard had dispersed without knowing anything was wrong, school officials initially had no way of knowing who might be on the third plane. Reece and Mike Noteware, longtime employee in the sports information office, made a list of everyone who would've been on the trip.
“And we went out in the parking lot and started checking cars,” Reece said.
If someone's car wasn't there, their name was crossed off the list.
“If we marked you out, it was a good thing,” Reece said. “But if your car was in the parking lot ... ”
He never finished the sentence.
“I still have that piece of paper,” he said.
The names that were never crossed off the list intermingle with ones that were, a reminder of the fragility of life and the randomness of tragedy.
Andre Williams knows those truths well. He was only a sophomore when the crash happened, but despite being one of the team's younger members, he took on an unexpected role of team spokesman in those days after the crash.
His speech during the memorial service inside Gallagher-Iba was as eloquent as it was heartbreaking.
“This isn't really goodbye,” he said at the end. “If we believe, we know this isn't goodbye. We'll see them in the morning.”
He put on a strong front.
“I was completely devastated,” he admitted. “I had lost the two people at that time who were closest to me.”
Williams roomed with Daniel Lawson and Nate Fleming during his freshman year. They couldn't have come from more different circumstances — Williams had gone to prep school, Lawson was from Detroit and Fleming was a walk-on from Edmond — but they became fast friends in Bennett Hall, Room 218. They spent all their time together, joking around, playing video games, even having water balloon fights during holiday breaks.
Williams had been through numerous ups and downs before he arrived in Stillwater, but his first year at OSU was the steadiest time of his life. Lawson and Fleming were a big part of that.
Williams now had a tattoo on his back with a cross and the Nos. 3 and 11.
The numbers worn by Lawson and Fleming.
James Halligan, now an Oklahoma state senator, was the OSU president at the time of the plane crash. He kept his emotions in check in those weeks and months after the crash, even when the two families with young children asked him a heart-wrenching favor.
“Would you come and read to the children the storybooks that their fathers would read?”
Halligan went to the houses, sat in the places that those fathers had sat, did the voices that those fathers had done, put on the funny hats that those fathers had put on.
The children showed him exactly how it was done.
“I really thank God I was able to do it and not cry,” he said, his eyes moist.
Now, Halligan is quick to tear up while talking about those dark days and those lost lives. He has worn one of the orange ribbon pins in remembrance of them every day since the crash.
He intends to wear it forever.
“I have given instructions — it shall be on me in my coffin,” he said.
Halligan pursed his lips.
“We said we would never forget,” he said. “God willing, I will never forget.”