Yesterday, family members, friends, and neighbors of the 29 miners killed at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine gathered for a memorial service at the convention center in Buckhannon, West Virginia. They were joined by Governor Joe Manchin, members of West Virginia’s Congressional delegation, Vice President Biden, and President Obama. At the start of his remarks, the president read out the names of the miners who lost their lives in the April 5th explosion:
Carl Acord. Jason Atkins. Christopher Bell. Gregory Steven Brock. Kenneth Allan Chapman. Robert Clark. Charles Timothy Davis. Cory Davis. Michael Lee Elswick. William I. Griffith. Steven Harrah. Edward Dean Jones. Richard K. Lane. William Roosevelt Lynch. Nicholas Darrell McCroskey. Joe Marcum. Ronald Lee Maynor. James E. Mooney. Adam Keith Morgan. Rex L. Mullins. Joshua S. Napper. Howard D. Payne. Dillard Earl Persinger. Joel R. Price. Deward Scott. Gary Quarles. Grover Dale Skeens. Benny Willingham. Ricky Workman.
At his Coal Tattoo blog, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette gives a moving description of the service. It begins:
As I watched today’s memorial service for the miners who died in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, I was taken back to the public hearing on the Sago Disaster four years ago.
I remembered the photos of the 12 miners, hung on the wall behind the podium at the witness tables in the huge gymnasium at West Virginia Wesleyan in Buckhannon.
And all I kept thinking today was … so many white crosses …
And there were so many photographs. It took so long for all the families to be announced and come in to their seats. It took President Obama so long to read off all the names. It took the mine rescue teams so long to light the cap lamps hung on those white crosses …
Look around your workplace tomorrow and imagine 29 people gone in one instant. That’s what happened at about 3 p.m. on April 5 deep inside the Upper Big Branch Mine, when methane — and probably coal dust — ignited and blew up the mine. Twenty-nine men, all gone … and now, so many white crosses.
Read the whole thing here.
In his remarks, President Obama spoke about the lives of the men who perished so suddenly inside the mine. And he spoke about miners’ role in our society, and our responsibility to them:
In the days following the disaster, emails and letters poured into the White House. Postmarked from different places, they often begin the same way: “I am proud to be from a family of miners,” “I am the son of a coal miner,” “I am proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.” They ask me to keep our miners in my thoughts. Never forget, they say, miners keep America’s lights on. Then, they make a simple plea: don’t let this happen again.
How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work; by simply pursuing the American dream?
There are plenty of answers to these questions, ranging from greed to inertia. But the answer the president wants is for us to say, We can’t in good conscience send workers into coal mines without doing everything in our power to protect them.
Is this something that we as a society can agree on? If so, it might mean we have to pay a bit more for electricity. If not, it will mean more terrible losses, more lines of white crosses, and more Appalachian communities bearing more than their fair share of pain.