We’re here to memorialize 29 Americans: Carl Acord. Jason Atkins.
Christopher Bell. Gregory Steven Brock. Kenneth Allan Chapman.
Robert Clark. Charles Timothy Davis. Cory Davis. Michael Lee
Elswick. William I. Griffith. Steven Harrah. Edward Dean Jones.
Richard K. Lane. William Roosevelt Lynch. Nicholas Darrell
McCroskey. Joe Marcum. Ronald Lee Maynor. James E. Mooney. Adam
Keith Morgan. Rex L. Mullins. Joshua S. Napper. Howard D. Payne.
Dillard Earl Persinger. Joel R. Price. Deward Scott. Gary Quarles.
Grover Dale Skeens. Benny Willingham. And Ricky Workman.
Nothing I, or the Vice President, or the Governor, none of the speakers
here today, nothing we say can fill the hole they leave in your hearts,
or the absence that they leave in your lives. If any comfort can be
found, it can, perhaps, be found by seeking the face of God —
(applause) — who quiets our troubled minds, a God who mends our broken
hearts, a God who eases our mourning souls.
Even as we mourn 29 lives lost, we also remember 29 lives lived. Up at
4:30 a.m., 5:00 in the morning at the latest, they began their day, as
they worked, in darkness. In coveralls and hard-toe boots, a hardhat
over their heads, they would sit quietly for their hour-long journey,
five miles into a mountain, the only light the lamp on their caps, or
the glow from the mantrip they rode in.
Day after day, they would burrow into the coal, the fruits of their
labor, what so often we take for granted: the electricity that lights
up a convention center; that lights up our church or our home, our
school, our office; the energy that powers our country; the energy that
powers the world. (Applause.)
And most days they’d emerge from the dark mine, squinting at the light.
Most days, they’d emerge, sweaty and dirty and dusted from coal. Most
days, they’d come home. But not that day.
These men -– these husbands, fathers, grandfathers, brothers sons,
uncles, nephews -– they did not take on their job unaware of the perils.
Some of them had already been injured; some of them had seen a friend
get hurt. So they understood there were risks. And their families did,
too. They knew their kids would say a prayer at night before they left.
They knew their wives would wait for a call when their shift ended
saying everything was okay. They knew their parents felt a pang of fear
every time a breaking news alert came on, or the radio cut in.
But they left for the mines anyway -– some, having waited all their
lives to be miners; having longed to follow in the footsteps of their
fathers and their grandfathers. And yet, none of them did it for
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, a roof overhead. For a chance to give their kids
opportunities that they would never know, and enjoy retirement with
their spouses. It was all in the hopes of something better. And so
these miners lived -– as they died -– in pursuit of the American Dream.
There, in the mines, for their families, they became a family themselves
-– sharing birthdays, relaxing together, watching Mountaineers football
or basketball together, spending days off together, hunting or fishing.
They may not have always loved what they did, said a sister, but they
loved doing it together. They loved doing it as a family. They loved
doing it as a community.
That’s a spirit that’s reflected in a song that almost every American
knows. But it’s a song most people, I think, would be surprised was
actually written by a coal miner’s son about this town, Beckley, about
the people of West Virginia. It’s the song, Lean on Me -– an anthem of
friendship, but also an anthem of community, of coming together.
That community was revealed for all to see in the minutes, and hours,
and days after the tragedy. Rescuers, risking their own safety,
scouring narrow tunnels saturated with methane and carbon monoxide,
hoping against hope they might find a survivor. Friends keeping porch
lights on in a nightly vigil; hanging up homemade signs that read, “Pray
for our miners, and their families.” Neighbors consoling each other,
and supporting each other and leaning on one another.
I’ve seen it, the strength of that community. In the days that followed
the disaster, emails and letters poured into the White House.
Postmarked from different places across the country, they often began
the same way: “I am proud to be from a family of miners.” “I am the
son of a coal miner.” “I am proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.”
(Applause.) They were always proud, and they asked me to keep our
miners in my thoughts, in my prayers. Never forget, they say, miners
keep America’s lights on. (Applause.) And then in these letters, they
make a simple plea: Don’t let this happen again. (Applause.) Don’t
let this happen again.
How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do
everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this
country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work; by simply
pursuing the American Dream?
We cannot bring back the 29 men we lost. They are with the Lord now.
Our task, here on Earth, is to save lives from being lost in another
such tragedy; to do what must do, individually and collectively, to
assure safe conditions underground — (applause) — to treat our miners
like they treat each other — like a family. (Applause.) Because we
are all family and we are all Americans. (Applause.) And we have to
lean on one another, and look out for one another, and love one another,
and pray for one another.
There’s a psalm that comes to mind today -– a psalm that comes to mind,
a psalm we often turn to in times of heartache.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort
God bless our miners. (Applause.) God bless their families. God bless
West Virginia. (Applause.) And God bless the United States of America.