Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial unveiled
WHITESVILLE, W.Va. -- Chuck Mooney fought back tears as he took his first look at the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial unveiled Friday in Whitesville.
"I'm a grown man," he said, "but I'm not ashamed to cry. He was my baby brother."
Chuck's brother, James, was one of the 29 men killed in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, a short drive down W.Va. 3 from Whitesville.
The 48-foot-long granite memorial has dual purposes. It serves as a tribute to the men who lost their lives in the April 5, 2010, disaster and the first responders on the scene, but also to all miners who have died on the job.
The structure is lined by pieces of coal from the UBB mine and depicts the silhouettes of 29 miners with the biblical phrase, "Come to me all you who labor and I will give you rest."
"Now, they'll never forget," Mooney said.
Ron Dinsmore, the Chapman Technical Group architect who designed the monument, asked for it to be viewed as "an opportunity," not a tombstone.
"This is not a graveyard. It's an opportunity to learn about the rich history of the coal industry in West Virginia and to celebrate and remember the hardworking people that call it home," he said. "To say it has been a great honor and privilege to design such a meaningful project would be a huge understatement -- but to say I wish I hadn't had to would be an even greater one."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., recently reintroduced mine safety legislation with new provisions aimed at problems at UBB.
"It's because of the memory of that day [April 5] that we should firmly resolve to better protect our coal miners and to pass new laws to keep them safer when they grab their hardhats and head underground," he said. "We must also hold accountable those on every level who failed in keeping the UBB miners safe. We must never allow inaction to put miners at risk."
Sen. Joe Manchin, also D-W.Va., encouraged West Virginians to continue to stand behind coal amid ongoing political debates surrounding the issue.
"It can't be a Democratic or Republican fix. I don't want any of you ever to give an excuse for what you do or where you come from. We built this country," he said. "We're in a very toxic political atmosphere, but that will pass.
"We have a hard time right now in Washington -- you can't live with us and you can't live without us -- but I tell you right now, you'll live a lot better with us than you will without us."
The memorial was developed by the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group Inc. and was made possible through donations from more than 100 corporate partners, including Alpha Natural Resources, which bought UBB owner Massey Energy Co. in 2011.
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Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.