Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Harry Gregg, Kenny Morgans and Albert Scanlon joined the families of 19 of the 23 passengers who died as a result of the injuries they suffered when BEA Flight 609 ZU crashed on take-off on February 6, 1958.
On an emotional afternoon at Old Trafford’s Manchester Suite, they sat alongside hundreds of invited guests with thousands more gathered outside to mark the occasion, while a ceremony took place in Munich at the same time.
It was an afternoon for sadness, but also reflection on the impact the Busby Babes, winners of five FA Youth Cups, had made on British and European football and perhaps they might have gone on to achieve.
United chief executive David Gill said: “It’s been an emotional day.
“No one who was here could fail to be touched by the service and the tributes by colleagues and comrades.
“We are sure the exhibition will give fans the chance to learn about the legacy of the Busby Babes for generations to come.”
The accident happened as manager Matt Busby — who was himself seriously injured in the crash — and his players headed back from Belgrade having secured their place in the European Cup semi-finals.
In total, 23 of the 44 passengers on the plane that day were to lose their lives, eight of them United players — Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Dublin born Liam “Billy” Whelan and Duncan Edwards, who died 15 days later — as well as three club officials, secretary Walter Crickmer, chief coach Bert Whalley and trainer Tom Curry.
In addition, eight of the nine journalists who had travelled with the team also perished, as did co-pilot Kenneth Rayment, steward Tom Cable and two other passengers.
The lives of each were celebrated at the service of remembrance, which was followed by a series of tributes and the formal unveiling of a new permanent memorial in the renamed Munich Tunnel housed in Old Trafford’s south stand.
United chaplain the Reverend John Boyers conducted the service, during which current club captain Gary Neville lit a candle for each of the dead as the roll of honour was read out at 3.04pm, 50 years to the minute that Flight 609 ZU crashed and changed so many lives.
Many wept as the names were called at the most poignant point in the memorial.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Busby’s grand-daughter, Jane Gibson, were among the readers as successive generations played their part.
The afternoon was concluded when, watched by the five surviving players, Roger Byrne Junior, son of the 1958 captain, and Gill unveiled the new memorial.