Heartland News Service
WHITESVILLE — Rob Dinsmore, designer of the Upper Big Branch Miners Monument, wanted to make one thing very clear to those attending the memorial dedication ceremony Friday in Whitesville – the monument “is not a tombstone.”
“This is not a tombstone,” Dinsmore said. “This site is not a graveyard. This is an opportunity to learn about the rich heritage of the coal industry in West Virginia and an opportunity to celebrate this great state, its beauty and to those who call it home. And its an opportunity to remember, to remember the 29 men we lost in April 2010.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, joined by the families of those lost at the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, the West Virginia Congressional Delegation, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Health and Safety Joe Main, and members of the UBB Mining Memorial Group, paid tribute to the miners during the memorial dedication.
Tomblin asked for a moment of silence for the miner who was tragically killed in a mine accident early Friday morning before the dedication ceremony of the granite memorial.
“I wish I could tell you I could ease your heartache, but unfortunately, I cannot. What I can tell you is that a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of you-the families and friends who lost someone on that terrible day,” Tomblin said. “I also think every day about the coal miners, across West Virginia, who are working hard to provide for their families. I think about their safety and want to be sure they come home to their families every night.
“This memorial will ensure the world will always remember the 29 good men, the 29 miners who gave their lives doing the work that all of us depend on. I’d like to personally thank all of those who were instrumental in creating this beautiful memorial.”
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was governor at the time of the disaster, also spoke at the event.
“We gather today to remember the 29 brave souls who were lost at Upper Big Branch Mine, pay tribute to their families and dedicate this beautiful memorial for future generations as a testament to our shared commitment that no family should endure a preventable tragedy ever again,” Manchin said. “Our entire nation grieved with the miners’ families for their tremendous loss, and I join my fellow West Virginians today, as we dedicate this impressive memorial, to honor their courage, sacrifice and the extraordinary strength of their families.”
“This striking memorial symbolizes strength,” Manchin said. “Strength of those brave men, the strength of their families and the unwavering strength of this community. This memorial stands as a reminder…a reminder of what we lost, the love we shared for our fallen brothers, as a reminder that life is often too short and as a reminder that we must always put safety first. This memorial stands for all of us – to help heal, to reflect and to never forget.”
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), said the miners would never be forgotten.
“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,” Rockefeller said. “It is their memory that we honor today. To the families of those lost, I sorely grieve with you today.”
U.S. Congressman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) called the monument at “magnificent tribute.”
“This is a great memorial to such good men,” Rahall said. “But I surely hope that we never have the need to erect one like it, ever again. That, to me, would be the ultimate monument to our miners,” said Rahall in remarks at the ceremony dedicating a granite wall featuring 29 silhouettes depicting the victims of the April 2010 disaster at Upper Big Branch.”
U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito spoke about the women that lost their men to the tragedy.
“These women have been strong and helped to keep their families together through this tragedy,” she said. “They are to be commended as well.”
One of those women who lost their husband and other relatives to the disaster, Jennifer Napper, was at the ceremony with her daughter.
“I am grateful to everyone who helped to make the monument a reality,” Napper said.
Napper lost her husband, Joshua Napper, when their daughter Jenna Leigh Napper was only 14-months old.
“She is now 4-years-old and it’s wonderful that she will have a place to come back to see the legacy of her father and learn about the history of coal mining, which is the thing many of her family members gave their lives for,” she said.
Shelia Combs, president of the UBB Mining Memorial Group, Inc., said so many people gave of their time and money to see that this project became a reality.
“We finished a year ahead of schedule and it’s because so many companies, the Town of Whitesville and regular citizens did everything they could do to get this project completed,” she said.
West Virginia State Police Chaplin Trooper Jim Mitchell gave a moving Invocation to begin the ceremony and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main also spoke at the event.