A host of dignitaries, led by President Barack Obama, went to Beckley, W.Va., recently to pay tribute to the lives of 29 coal miners who were killed after an April 5 blast deep inside the Upper Big Branch Mine, the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1970. Twentynine white crosses lined the Beckley stage, and the lamps of 29 miners’ helmets were lit as tribute to the people who died and to the dangerous way of life that claimed them.
Obama told family members and other mourners, “All that hard work. All that hardship. All the time spent underground. It was all for the families. It was all for you. For a car in the driveway. For a roof overhead. For a chance to give their kids opportunities. … It was all in the hopes of something better. So these miners lived — as they died — in pursuit of the American dream.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who has known wrenching family tragedy, alluded to the personal pain attached to such loss: “… When life has moved on around us, but has yet to stir within you, that’s when you are going need one another. Because for other people, the lucky ones, life gets to go on. But as a community and as a nation, we would compound tragedy if we let life go on unchanged. Certainly, nobody should have to sacrifice their life for their livelihood … but we will have that conversation later.”
But not too much later.
Perhaps this time, after 29 miners perished so Americans could have light, mining safety will become the priority it should be, and perhaps this time pending federal investigations into the cause of the lethal explosion will lead to true reform.
“How can we fail them?” the President asked. “How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything it its power to protect them?”
We can’t. And we must.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville