Leaders of miner's memorial service at Wesleyan Chapel
in Buckhannon said they are hopeful some healing can begin
(Hur Herald Photo)

By Bob Weaver 2006

Writer Homer Hickam spoke to the 2,500 assembled at West Virginia Wesleyan College yesterday regarding the tragic deaths of twelve West Virginia miners from Sago mine.

His opening comments brought laughter from those who filled the 1,800 seat sanctuary - "There is no doubt that God is a West Virginian."

Hundreds had to be seated in the school's gym for "A Service of Honor, Hope and Healing."

"For in this place, this old place, this ancient place, this glorious and beautiful and, sometimes, fearsome place of mountains and mines, there still lives a people like the miners of Sago and their families, people who yet believe in the old ways, the old virtues, the old truths," he said.

The "Rocket Boys" author brought his rocket boy friends from Coalwood, WV to the service from his coal mining town made famous in the film "October Sky."

Hickam (pictured left) said no writer could write as eloquently as the notes scribbled by the trapped men who knew they were going go die - "It's not bad...just going to sleep...we'll see you on the other side," many of them expressing love for their families and their religious faith.

"I have discovered West Virginia is not the ordinary place I thought it was when I was a kid," referring to the strength of character of West Virginians, mountain people, "We are not afraid."

"There is beauty in anything well done and that goes for a life well-lived," he concluded.

Pastor Wease Day said "I'm sure there was a prayer meeting goin' on in that ol' coal mine the other evening like we've never seen before."

"I can hear Jim Bennett hollerin' 'Boys you need the Lord in your life.' And I can hear (George) Junior Hamner say 'Does anybody got any cards? Let's play a round.' I can hear them now," said Day, whose Sago Baptist Church was the center where families and others gathered for word of their loved ones after an explosion.

Local musicians offered songs, local residents offered readings, many others simply offered prayers, including West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin who had ordered that all state flags fly at half-staff until sundown on Sunday.

A block away from the sanctuary a hate group applauded the miner's deaths as an act of God for their sinful ways.

Governor and Mrs. Joe Manchin assisted with the candle lighting at the memorial service

"We cannot know the purpose of this tragedy," said Gov. Joe Manchin, "but I pledge to you we will determine the cause."

David Blevins made the trip from Alabama to honor the miners Sunday, his own father had been among 13 miners killed in a 2001 mine explosion and fire in that state.

"We know exactly what they're going through. What they're feeling and what they will be feeling," Blevins said. "Grief, agony and very angry. And I'm sure hate will go through their hearts. It will take time for that to heal."

Attending were US Senators Robert Byrd and John D. Rockefeller, former president of the college, with Congresswoman Shelly Moore Captio and dozens of other political leaders. Most importantly, the miner's families and friends.