FARMINGTON, W.Va. — “One miner’s death is too many in this industry,” said Joe Main, director of the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA), and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III echoed in a letter Sunday at the service to honor and remember the lives lost after explosions occurred at the Farmington No. 9 mine 48 years ago.
Forty-eight years ago Sunday, 78 coal miners lost their lives, with 19 bodies never recovered, in the tragic mine disaster Nov. 20, 1968. Those who perished continue to be honored as heroes each and every year. The memorial at the site stands where it is believed those 19 victims perished.
The ceremony’s invocation was given by Reverend Richard Bowyer, who was the lead pastor in consoling family members, Mike Caputo, master of ceremonies and UMW International District 31 vice president, said.
“(I) took the position of chaplain coordinator and spent eight days and nights at the site,” Bowyer said. “This time of year and this event brings back life-changing memories for me. I empathize and sympathize with the families and others who were effected.”
Caputo then read a letter from Manchin in which it said that he, too, lost people close to him in the mine disaster.
“Forty-eight years later we continue to grieve, remember those that we lost and to pray for their families,” Caputo read. “I personally lost many individuals who I knew well, including my dear uncle John and several classmates.”
The keynote speaker for the afternoon’s service was Cecil Roberts, the international president of the United Mine Workers of America. During his speech he said the miners are heroes, “who gave their lives so things could be better for the rest of us.”
“One can make a good argument here that these men gave their lives so that we could pass the 1969 (Federal) Coal Mine Health and Safety Act,” Roberts said. “As it was mentioned previously by (Caputo), it would never have passed if we did not have this tragedy. It would never have passed had it not been on TV, the radio and newspapers consistently for a week, and it would never have passed had it not been for the courage of the family members who stood up and said this should never happen to anybody else’s family ever again.”
Reynolds explained that with the act, there were caps put on how much methane was allowed within mine, escape ways were better marked, there were escape capsules placed at various locations instead of having to go get a bucket truck to get someone out of the mine and MSHA was empowered to shut down a mine if wasn’t safe.
Main added during his speech that the number of deaths has dropped drastically after the act.
Around 40 wreaths with black ribbons were placed at the foot of the memorial in honor of the 21 survivors and 78 victims. They were placed by UMW leaders, other unions, state and local officials and families of the miners.
Also during the service, the names of the 78 miners who lost their lives were read followed by the singing of “Amazing Grace” by Sharon Clelland who was just 5 years old when her father died in the mine.
To close the ceremony, the benediction was presented by Father Rodney Torbic followed by the rifle salute by the V.F.W. Post No. 9916.
Email Kelsie LeRose at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @kleroseTWV.