Senator Jay Rockefeller honored the 29 miners who died at the Upper Big Branch disaster during a service today dedicating a new monument in their memory.
Rockefeller offered the following remarks (as prepared for delivery):
Today my heart aches anew with the memory of 29 men who, on that terrible day two years ago, walked away from their homes on earth, into Upper Big Branch and into the loving arms of their Creator. It is their memory that we honor today. To the families of those lost, I sorely grieve with you today.
Coming into this sacred spot, I'm struck by its beauty. I've seen a lot of powerful monuments, but I'm not sure I've seen many that rival this one. Thank you all for allowing me to share this moment with you.
To those who spearheaded this memorial, you have our eternal gratitude. Every volunteer, construction worker, artisan and community member who had a hand in making this event happen, the thanks of a grateful state are with you today.
I feel privileged to again be in Whitesville among the first responders and mine rescue teams who dedicate themselves to search and recovery efforts and who worked so hard at UBB. You have our thanks, and always will.
There's no doubt each of the 29 miners we honor today possessed vast reserves of courage. They were men who, like so many in West Virginia, worked the mines to put food on the table and a roof overhead. But that day was different.
And it's because the memory of the day is still seared into our minds that we should firmly resolve to better protect coal miners. To pass new laws that keep them safer when they grab their hardhat and head underground.
We also must hold accountable those at every level who failed in keeping UBB miners safe, and must never allow inaction to put miners at risk. Part of that is protecting the miners who dare to speak up about problems that risk their lives.
Coal is a backbone industry in West Virginia, and crucial not only to the people of Whitesville and Southern West Virginia, but also to the entire state --and honestly to this very nation. We can all take pride in that.
But how bright can that future be if we fail to protect fully the men and women who mine our coal? That's a question we must all answer.
This beautiful memorial serves as a reminder that protecting our miners is a sacred duty. It's also a memorial of a shared time when, in our darkest hour, we grieved together for these souls and later took those first tentative steps toward some level healing.
And that's my prayer today: a prayer of peace for aching hearts--never forgetting but slowly healing -- because that is what those we have lost would want most for you.
My heart is so deeply moved by these stone silhouettes. They were made to last forever, just like the memory of 29 men, as strong as the granite that bears their names, who are now etched forever into the soul of West Virginia.
Thank you, and may God bless you all.