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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Memorial for the Sago Miners
Aired January 15, 2006 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. We want to welcome you to CNN's live coverage of the Sago Mine memorial service. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta.
More than 2,000 people are coming together there to remember the 12 miners who died in the January 2 tragedy. Like the coal itself, grief and heartbreak run through these hills and so does the hope. Today's memorial will include prayers for Randy McCloy, Jr., the sole survivor of the January 2 explosion, and the anguishing ordeal that followed. Families and friends of the miners will gather under the banner "Honor, Hope and Healing."
And you're looking there at the live picture of people still streaming into this church for this special memorial service. Randi Kaye has spent the last few weeks within the grieving community. She joins us from Buckhannon Campus of West Virginia's Wesleyan College to help set the scene there -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the bells here have just begun at the chapel. And as you said, the families are making their way inside. They were lined up here for a couple of hours this morning.
The chapel inside can hold about 1800 people, but they do have an overflow room ready that can hold another 2,000 people. They do expect a very large crowd here. Maybe as many as 4,000 here to pay tribute to the miners who were lost on January 2nd.
The families, before this service begins, will be meeting with the governor, Governor Joe Manchin, who was by their side from the moment this began. He, too, had lost an uncle and dear friends in a mining accident years ago, decades ago, and understands what they've been going through. They'll also be meeting with Congressman Shelly Moore Capito, this is her district. Also, Senator Jay Rockefeller is here to meet with them before the service begins.
At the beginning of the service we do expect some candles to be lit. We expect white candles, one for each of the 12 miners who perished, then one candle of a color, which would represent Randal McCloy, the only surviving miner, the 26-year-old. We do expect to hear from a number of speakers. We expect to have many prayers here today as well.
But the speakers we want to tell you about would be Mike Rose, he's the son-in-law of Jerry Groves, one of the miners that was lost. Also Cheyenne Polst (ph), the great-niece of Terry Helms, you may recall Terry Helms was the fire boss of this team. He was the first to be let off of the buggy that carried the miners into the mine that morning. He is there to sort of prepare the mine and make sure that it was safe for everyone. He was the first body that was recovered that Tuesday evening about 9:45.
We'll also hear from -- and this could be a very emotional tribute. We'll hear from Ty Anderson. He's a 10-year-old boy, he is a fifth grader, he's the son of Tom Anderson, one of the miners that was lost. He's expected to read Psalm 91. He read that continuously at the Sago Baptist Church where the families had been gathering waiting word of their loved ones. As the community describes him Ty Anderson is enthusiasm that kept hope alive. A very supportive and very strong young man expected to speak here today.
Also, we expect to hear from Homer Hicken, Jr. He's an author, he's a rocket scientist. He's from this area of West Virginia . He's from the small town of Coalwood. He comes if a family of coal miners. We'll hear from him.
And Pastor Ed McDaniel from the Christian Fellowship Church. He's attended each funeral for the miners who we lost here. And he's expected to present a PowerPoint, a memorial to each of the miners. Also the community choir will be performing, over 100 members from all the area churches, just coming together for today for this very somber occasion. And they will be singing "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled."
So a very, very emotional day expected here, Fredricka. Many here to pay tribute to those lost on that terrible day of January 2.
WHITFIELD: Randi, significant, too, that this memorial service is taking place in such a public way, when we know during all of the funerals that took place for the 12 miners, it was very private. The family members, the community members really didn't want any kind of cameras, reporters, et cetera, to be in attendance. Why is it so significant, in your view, that these community members this time do want the community as well as all those outside to understand and see what this memorial service is all about?
KAYE: I think, Fredricka, because this is a small community. Buckhannon, which is the largest town, closest to the Sago Mine, is a population of 3,000. It is located in Upshur County, the same county as the mine, which has a population of 25,000. To lose 12 members of your community when it is such a small community, such a close-knit community, that is very significant and very heartbreaking.
Over the last couple of weeks they did want the media to stay away. I think that it's so important that these men not be forgotten. These were a brotherhood, as they describe themselves. They rode that rail car into that mine together every single day of the week. They knew each other well, they knew their families, they knew each other's families. It's critical to them.
That's why some did give a few brief interviews because they want their father, their sons, their brother-in-laws, whoever they may be, they want them to be remembered. They want to put a face to the pain that this community is feeling. So we are certainly being respectful of that today. We're lined up a good distance from the chapel, certainly not getting in the families' way, we would not want to do that.
But they did provide room for us today, I think to memorialize with them, in a way, the media lived this story with them for the 40 hours they were waiting for some answers on their loved ones. We were there at the Sago Baptist Church with them. And I think that they would want us to be with them today to memorialize and help put some closure on this for an entire community.
WHITFIELD: And this tragedy still very fresh, these family members still grieving very dearly. Yet at the same time, just as a service is called a service of "Honor, Hope and Healing", there's a lot of hope particularly for that sole survivor, Randy McCloy. What do we understand to be his condition now that he is at a hospital closer to his family there in West Virginia?
KAYE: Fred, just a few days ago, he did receive a feeding tube, it was inserted into his stomach. He also had a tracheotomy to put a breathing tube into his throat. He is still in a medically induced coma. He certainly has not said a word since the mining accident. We were there when the ambulance came down from the face of the coal mine carrying him. And we could see that night -- or actually early that morning, that Wednesday morning they brought him down, you could see them pumping on his chest and trying to keep him alive.
And so we wanted to follow his story, of course. But he hasn't said a word. His family, his wife Anna, who is on the list, she's expected to be here today. She has been at his side with his two children, but again still in that medically induced coma, and still no word on whether he will have any type of brain damage.
Right now, from what I understand inside, the candles of honor that I had mentioned earlier are taking place. These are the 12 candles that would be lit for each miner who was lost, and the one candle for that 26-year-old survivor, Randal McCloy.
There was an occurrence this week with McCloy's brother, Matthew, who had taken some pictures of him while in the hospital. And had actually sold those pictures. He wanted the community to know -- he wanted the government to know what was going on. Certainly Randal McCloy's wife, Anna, did not approve of that and was not aware of that.
WHITFIELD: Speaking of which, we're looking at a number of the family members, as you pointed out,
, who are lighting those candles. You talk about Anna McCloy. Is she in attendance or do we know much about her presence during this memorial service, or is she concentrating mostly on being near her husband in the hospital as he recovers?
KAYE: From what we understand, she is on a list of some people who are going to be here today, and who are here today. But we have not seen her from our vantage point. We're not sure if she's here yet. We do know that she has been at the side of her husband every day at the hospital. But she was expected to make some sort of appearance here and to join with these other family members. This, as I said, this is a very close community. A lot of the families who did lose loved ones have been praying for the survivor, Randal McCloy. It may be their only way of finding out what happened that day in the mine, that early morning, in the early morning hours there, if he survives and is in well enough condition to explain exactly what happened, that would be something for these families to know and certainly would offer even more closure for them.
WHITFIELD: As a few more family members step up to light the remaining candles to be lit, we're also anticipating to hear welcoming remarks from the dean of the chapel, Angela Gay Kinkead from the West Virginia Wesleyan College. I do want to preface that, in case she begins to speak before we have a chance to formally introduce her.
In the meantime
, you talk about the investigation, surely at the front of the consciousness of the people here is the investigation. It only happened a couple of weeks ago. Still unclear exactly why the explosion took place, why so much carbon monoxide was detected inside the mine, why it was difficult in which to convey or communicate with the miners, and why they were unable to perhaps get to the fresh air area or even be able to use the tank or canister of fresh air, which reportedly, was nearby.
How much are the people there right now at this juncture in that community focusing on the investigation waiting to hear any of these answers, at the same time still dealing with the loss of their family members?
KAYE: This community is very focused on the loss of their family members, but one way to help them get through that and to understand that would be to find out exactly what happened. From what we understand, the investigators are cussing on this sealed off area of the mine and these seals that separated the old mine from the new mine. That is where the explosion took place and those seals did not hold up as a result of that explosion. And they're wondering why. So they'll be focusing on that.
Right now, Fred, they have these new ventilation pipes which would be draining off this excess of the methane gas. In other words, they need to do that to try and get these investigators inside, to even make the first steps at finding out exactly what happened for this community.
We know that nobody has reached the site of the fatal blast since it occurred. Workers, though, we are being told, could be there within several days of getting this methane gas out of there. This word comes to us from David Dye, who is the acting administrator of the Mine Safety & Health Administration.
In fact, he released a statement today, for the families, to say this is a day to honor the memories of those fallen, to offer condolences to their families, friends, loved once. The Mine Safety & Health Administration, and its dedicated professionals, will forever keep them and the survivor of this tragedy accident in their thought and their prayers.
That's from David Dye who is telling us that investigator could be inside within a couple of days. What we do know is that there are natural gas wells and oil wells all over this community; some of them very close to the mine. They're wondering if possibly one of those wells was struck by a bolt of lightning early that morning which may have caused the blast, or possibly just a buildup of gas inside the mine. They still don't know.
But what we do know is that these miners, sadly, may have been as close as 2,000 feet of breathable air, fresh air. Unfortunately, Fred, they didn't carry two-way radios. So they were unable to tell their rescuers an exact location. When they drilled those six-inch diameter holes to try to find out, from the top of the mine, where this mining crew was, they were unable to find them and didn't find them in the spot where they drilled.
We also know from Ben Hatfield -- the CEO OF the ICG, the International Coal Group, which owns the mine -- Hatfield is also telling CNN that the miners did try to escape using their rail car, their man trip as it's called, that is the buggy they take into the mine, we know that now because of footprints that were discovered there.
So once again, it could be within several days, which is very critical to get those investigators inside and hopefully find some answers.
WHITFIELD: Since that explosion,
, the International Coal Group has been under fire, so to speak, by a number of people who have come out trying to illuminate on the number of violations that a federal report has cited. The International Coal Group has said that it is contesting some of those findings, and that leading up to this explosion there were actually a couple of violations that they were soon to be addressing or already addressing.
KAYE: That is correct. In 2005, there were 208 violations at the Sago Mine; 96 of those violations were considered significant and substantial. This comes from a report by the mine safety and health administration. Some of these were collapsing roofs, an accumulation of coal dust, badly maintained escape routes. Certainly, a high degree of negligence. But they are saying they've taken care of some of these and that is the latest on that -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right. So
, again, we're looking at the completion of the lighting of the 12 candles, in addition to the 12 white candles all in commemoration of the miners who were killed in that explosion, as well as the one red candle that is now illuminated to be the symbol of Randy McCloy, the one sole survivor.
Now we want to listen in to the music that's being played for the at least 2,000 people who have now filled this church here in Buckhannon, West Virginia.
REV. ANGELA GAY KINKEAD, W.VA. WESLEYAN CHAPEL: Good afternoon and welcome to Wesley Chapel on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College for this service of "Honor, Hope and Healing".
The events of the past two weeks have brought overwhelming grief to many families and friends and co-workers. Our community has experienced deep sadness. We have stood in circles of grief for many days, and our community has expanded to include cities and towns, communities beyond our lovely corner of West Virginia.
Today those gathered here represent a community that spans the globe and reaches to ages past. Even when we feel most alone, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The presence of others allows us to lay aside every weight. To look to our faith to seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Today many -- today may our prayers, our songs, our stories and scripture bear witness to God's power over death. We join with our friends, our families and co-workers, leaders of government in the state of West Virginia and several sister states, and with national leaders. The leaders and pastors of our churches have joined us. Miners in every capacity and the mining families from the 2001 mining disaster in Alabama have come to this place to stand with us.
We are united here in this circle of grief, and may it become a circle of blessing.
In the wake of our waiting and grieving, a family member shared, the governor stepped out of his role as the governor and became a member of our family. At this time I would like to introduce Governor Joe Manchin, governor of the state of West Virginia, to make some remarks.
GOV. JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGNIA: First of all, let me (AUDIO GAP)
WHITFIELD: All right, obviously some audio problems coming out of the church there as the Governor Joe Manchin is there addressing the congregation there. The number of people who have assembled there at the Chapel on the Wesleyan College campus of Buckhannon, West Virginia . Let's listen in now.
MANCHIN: I looked around, I saw distinctly 13 families, and families, just like all West Virginia families we gather and build upon our strengths and pull upon each other for comfort.
By Tuesday morning I saw one family. And someone asked me about that. And I said, it's really who we are. It is kind of hard to explain West Virginia, unless you're a West Virginian and you're part of the state. But we were together, I watched this change. We shared stories, we shared your stories and your families' stories and I shared mine.
I also lost a loved one many years ago in 1968 mine explosion in Farmington. And I felt there was one thing maybe I could do is that there is some comfort knowing that I wanted the information to be as quickly and as (INAUDIBLE).
Because I said that a minute is like an hour, and hour (INAUDIBLE). And a day is an eternity. And with that, I felt that we could help.
We grew stronger from this, we all grew stronger. And I had the opportunity to talk quite a bit about miners, miners' families and West Virginia, and who we are, since those two weeks. And I have said and I told the world whenever I get the chance, there's nothing like a miners or a miners' family. Knowing the inherent danger that they do every day, there's not a prouder group of people, there is not a prouder person that's able to provide for their family, that love their family, that love the state of West Virginia and really make this country strong and keeps this country strong.
I don't know where you find this type of person anywhere else in the world, starting here in West Virginia. (INAUDIBLE) I have said I'm so proud to be governor of a greatest state in the nation, because I serve some of the most amazing people in the world, right here in the state.
We do not know the purpose of this tragedy, but I submit to you, we will determine the cause. That is my commitment and my pledge.
I would like to recognize the people who will be working with us to make sure, on your behalf, and your loved ones' behalf that this happens. (INAUDIBLE) We have all of our state delegation. I want to recognize also (INAUDIBLE), Mr. David Dye, the acting administrator of the Federal Mine Safety & Health Administration (INAUDIBLE).
They're all here today (INAUDIBLE) offering their condolences to the families, the friends and loved ones of these miners as well. I can tell you that we are all feeling deeply this promise. We will make sure of that promise, your loved ones did not die in vain and will not be forgotten.
I want to thank the people from across the state of West Virginia, and across the United States of America, and all around the world (INAUDIBLE). They grieved with us, they gave us their prayers. And I can tell you inside that church we felt every one of those prayers. You have helped. (INAUDIBLE) You gave us a great comfort knowing that everyone was with us during that time.
So now as we continue to go on with our lives, we pray for 13 miracles (ph). We prayed with everything we have had in us. The Lord granted us one miracle Randal McCloy. I'm still hopeful but I have to report to you Randal has a long way to go. He's still a very, very sick boy. (INAUDIBLE)
And with that, I'm hoping the good Lord allows Randal to tell that very important story. (INAUDIBLE)
I would like to again, by sharing it with you, one editorial drawing. I want to you picture in your mind this drawing (INAUDIBLE) it was in "The Chicago Tribune", January 6th. It was entitled simply "The West Virginia Coal Miners".
If you could imagine St. Peter standing on top of the clouds with his wings spread out. He's on these beautiful clouds, with the beautiful blue skies and the Pearly Gates are behind him. Our miners are coming up. One of our miners is stretching his arm out and St. Peter is stretching his arm out to grab him. And he says, "These are the prettiest clouds we've ever seen. It looks like we're still in West Virginia, fellows".
WHITFIELD: Those remarks from West Virginia Governor Manchin, who was there talking about the tribute being paid to the 12 miners, as well as the prayers that continue for the sole survivor.
KINKEAD: At the conclusion of this service, would you please remain seated for the closing music. It is at that time that the families will leave the chapel. Will you stand with me as we join in our call to worship.
The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth him.
CONGREGATION: The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous (INAUDIBLE).
KINKEAD: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him from them all.
CONGREGATION: The Lord delivers (ph) all in his service (ph) (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please remain standing. The gentleman I'm going to introduce to you here at the time is Pastor Wease Day of the Sago Baptist Church.
Pastor Day opened up his church the hour that he heard that the mines were in trouble. He opened that door up, he let people come in. But I want you to know more than anything, he never left that church until we had the news. He's an awesome man, a man of God, and he is here today to open us up in a word of prayer, Pastor Wease.
REV. WEASE DAY, SAGO BAPTIST CHURCH: Before we pray, I need to take just a moment of your time.
God is a wonderful, God and an awesome God. I've seen the power of God in the last couple of weeks greater than I've ever seen it before. I've never seen God face to face. I've never seen Jesus Christ face to face, but I've felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I want to thank all of our elected officials, our governor, Shelly Moore Capito, you folks were there. Senator Rockefeller, we thank you for coming, for your generosity. Senator Byrd. And I could go on and on. But most of all today I want to share with you the greatest love letter that was ever written. It's all about my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Today is a day of salvation. Tomorrow may be eternally too late. Maybe the last opportunity you ever have will be today. And I urge you, if you've never accepted Jesus, today's the day to get that perfect love.
I'm so glad the governor mentioned what he did about St. Peter reaching down to the miners, because we were praying the other night in the church. One of the first things I heard the governor say, well let's pray. I like the way he said, let's hold hands, just like a family.
God never ceases to amaze me with his wonderful power. Never ceases to amaze me with his unconditional love. And to Mrs. McCloy, we're so thankful for you here today, for your husband. I'm sure that there was a prayer meeting going on in that old coal mine the other evening. Like we never seen before.
I could hear Jim Bennett hollering, boys, you need the Lord in your life. I could hear Junior Anderson say, does anybody have any cards? Let's play around. I could hear him then.
So folks, let's just be ourselves today, but let's praise God Almighty for being the God that he is. Give him the honor, the glory and every one of you, you miners' families have become my family and you've always got a home in Sago. We're a big operation, we don't have the mailing address, we don't have a telephone and we don't have a Website.
If you want to see us and you want to know what's going on in Sago, you're going to have to come and be there. Just as you did the other night. We thank god for each one of you. And just as God comforted all of his people before, he'll do that again. I never had to ask God for anything except, Lord, guide and direct us. And he said in the book of Malachi, he'd open up the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing you couldn't hold it all. And it came, truckload, after truckload, after truckload, from businesses, persons different people.
I thank you the opportunity you've come and given me to pray with you this afternoon. Most of you know I don't hear real well, but I can talk real good.
Let us pray. Oh gracious and wise heavenly Father as we enter your presence today, Lord, we're so thankful for the blessings you've showered upon us. Lord, for the opportunity that you have given us here in this town of ours, Lord and Buckhannon, Lord, over at old Sago where we love so much. And the Lord, the opportunity that we can open the doors of your house and welcome your children in.
What a blessing it is to do our duty and to love your children with an unconditional love, this same love that you hold for us. And Lord, we're so thankful for the time that you have shared all of these miners with us. And Lord, for the one that's in Morgantown in that hospital bed, Lord, we ask you to send down a double portion of your spirit.
Lord, that healing power that you have and Lord, that comfort to these families that are here. And Lord, we'll love one another as you loved us. And Lord, one day we know and realize, lord, that our Governor Manchin has come, but lord, we look for a greater mansion one day, one not made with hands. And Lord, we know that heaven is going to be our home. Father, we thank you, in Jesus' holy and precious name, we pray. Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may be seated.
As we do come to celebrate the lives of these men, which is what I shared with the families downstairs, that's what we've come to do. We've come to celebrate the 13 lives, of lives that have been well lived. And we want to remember them today in a special way that we feel probably will bring a few tears to your eyes but also bringing joy to your hearts. And our goal is throughout this service here for this afternoon is that you will leave here feeling better than when you came.
Reading to us here for today in Psalm 91, we had selected and hoped for Ty Anderson to come, but Ty was unable to be here for this day. But we have Chris Cosner who is very close friends with this family who is going to come and share with you Tom Anderson's favorite psalm, Psalm 91. So Chris, if you would come and share with us these words. And again, you'll hear as he reads why they're so special in the lives of the Anderson family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As many of you know that were there at the church, there was a young man walking around with a Bible just like this. He might have picked it up from one of the pews. I don't know if it was his or not. But he walked around and I think he even read it to you governor and different ones that he read to and he said this is my daddy's favorite scripture.
And he'd take that scripture around. Whoever would listen to him read it. It was a blessing to my heart to see a young man, just a young man, have that much faith. It helped me to realize how important, how important it is that we always look to God. You know, I've been a pastor now for about seven, eight years. I'm young, I'm dumb, but I know the Lord is God. I know he's awesome. And I know he's good.
And you know, I just want to read this in the honor of Tom Anderson from his son Ty. "He that dwelleth of the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord he is my refuge and my fortress, my God and in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noise and pestilence, he shall cover thee with his feathers and under his wing shalt thou trust. His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shall not be afraid by the terror by night nor for the arrow that flyeth by day nor for the pestilence that walk in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth noon day. A thousand shall fall at thy side and 10,000 at thy right hand but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eye shalt thou behold and see reward and that of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the Lord which is my refuge even the most high, thy habitation. There shall be no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in thy hands lest thou dash thou foot against a stone. Thou shall tread upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shall be trampled under feet because he has set his love upon me.
Therefore, will I deliver him, I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call up on me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.
KAYE: That is the reading of Psalm 91, that the miner Tom Anderson's favorite psalm. Clearly we were expecting to hear from Ty Anderson, Tom Anderson's son, but instead from a family friend. But Fredricka, here in West Virginia the roots of this community deeply in coal and certainly in religion.
WHITFIELD: Indeed, we're going to take a short break right now. When we come back, we're going to continue this special memorial service under way called a service of honor, hope and healing. We'll be hearing from others from the area, community members as well as a well known author from that area of Coalwood, West Virginia, who you had mentioned, Randy, is from a family of coal miners, Homer Hickham. And we'll be back with more of our special coverage of this memorial for Sago miners.
WHITFIELD: More now of this special memorial for the Sago miners out of West Virginia. You're listening now to author Homer Hickham.
HOMER HICKHAM, JR., AUTHOR: My wife Linda is here as well, an Alabama girl. As this tragedy unfolded, the national media kept asking me of the Sago miners. Who are these men? And why are they coal miners? And what kind of men would still mine the deep coal?
And one answer came early after the miners were recovered, it was revealed that as his life dwindled Martin Toler had written this. "It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. Tell all I'll see them on the other side. I love you."
In all the books I've written, I have never written anything or read anything by any author so eloquent. "It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. Tell all I'll see them on the other side. I love you."
I believe Mr. Toler was writing for all the men who were with him that day. These were obviously not ordinary men. Thomas Anderson, Alva Martin Bennett, James A. Bennett, Jerry Groves, George Junior Hamner, Terry Michael Helms, Jesse L. Jones, David Lewis, Martin Toler Jr., Fred Ware, Jack Weaver, Marshall Winans and, of course, we have not forgotten Randal McCloy, who still fights for his life. What made these men so extraordinary? And how did they become the men they were? Men of honor, men you could trust, men who practiced a dangerous profession, men who dug coal from beneath a jealous mountain?
Part of the answer is where they lived. Look around you. This is a place where many lessons are learned of true things that shape people as surely as rivers carve valleys or rain melts mountains or currents push apart the sea. Here miners still walk with the trudging grace to and from the vast deep mines. And in the schools, the children still learn and the teachers teach and in snowy white churches on hillside cuts the preachers still preach and God, who we have no doubt is a West Virginian, still does his work, too.
The people endure here as they always have for they understand that God has determined that there is no joy greater than hard work and that there is no water holier than the sweat off a man's brow. In such a place as this, a dozen men may die, but death can never destroy how they lived their lives and why.
As I watched the events of this tragedy unfold, I kept being reminded of Coalwood, the mining town where I grew up. Back then, I thought life in that little town was pretty ordinary. Even though nearly all the men who lived there worked in the mine and all too often some of them died or was hurt.
My grandfather lost both his legs in Coalwood mine and lived in pain until the day he died. My father lost the sight in an eye while trying to rescue trapped miners. And then after that he worked for 15 years. He died of black lung.
When I began to write my books about growing up in West Virginia, I was surprised to discover upon reflection, well, maybe it wasn't such an ordinary place after all. I realized in a place where maybe everybody should be afraid after all every day the men went off to work in a deep, dark and dangerous coal mine, instead they'd adopted a philosophy that consisted of four basic attitudes.
We are proud of who we are. We stand up for what we believe. We keep our families together. We trust in God but rely on ourselves. By adhering to these four simple approaches to life, they were people not afraid to do what had to be done, to mine the deep coal and to do it with integrity and honor.
The first time my dad ever took me in the mine was when I was in high school. He wanted to show me where he worked, what he did for a living. And I have to confess I was pretty impressed. But what I recall most of all was what he said to me while we were down there. He put a spot of light on my face and explained to me what mining meant to him. He said, every day I ride the man trip down the main line, I get out and walk back into the gob and I feel the air pressure on my face. I know the mine like know a man, can sense things about it that aren't right even when everything on paper says it is. Every day there's something that needs to be done. Because men will be hurt if it isn't done or the coal the companies promise to load won't get loaded. Coal is the lifeblood of this country. If we fail, the country fails.
And then he said, there's no men in this world like miners, sonny. They're good men, strong men, the best there is. I think no matter what you do with your life, no matter where you go or who you know, you will never know such good and strong men.
Over time, though I would meet many famous people, from astronauts to actors to presidents, I came to realize my father was right. There are no better men than coal miners, and he was right about something else, too. If coal fails, our country fails. The American economy rests on the back of our coal miners. We could not prosper without them.
God in his wisdom has provided this country with an abundance of coal. And he also gave us the American coal miner who glories in his work. A television interviewer asked me to describe work in a coal mine. And I called it beautiful. He was astonished that I would say such a thing. And I went on to explain that, yes, it's hard work. When it all comes together, though, it's like watching and listening to a great symphony. The continuous mining machines, the shuttle cars, the roof bolters, the ventilation brattices, the conveyor belts, all in concert, all accomplishing their great task. Yes, it is a beautiful thing to see.
There's a beauty in anything well done. And that goes for a life well lived. How and why these men died will be studied now and in the future. Many lessons will be learned and many other miners will live because of what is learned. This is right and proper.
But how and why these men lived, that is perhaps the more important thing to be studied. We know this much for certain -- they were men who loved their families. They were men who worked hard. They were men of integrity and honor. And they were also men who laughed and knew how to tell a good story. Of course, they could. They were West Virginians.
And so we come together on this day to recall these men and to glory in their presence among us if only for a little while. We also come in hope that this service will help the families with their great loss and to know the honor that we accord them. But no matter what else might be said or done concerning these events, let us forever be reminded who these men really were and what they believed and who their families were and are and who West Virginians are and what we believe, too.
There are those now in the world who would turn our nation into a land of fear and the frightened. It's laughable, really how little they understand who we are.
We're still the land of the brave. They need look no further than right here in this state for proof. 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, who still lift their heads from the darkness into the light and say for the nation and all of the world to hear, we are proud of who we are. We stand up for what we believe. We keep our families together. We trust in God. We do what needs to be done. We are not afraid.
WHITFIELD: You've been listening to the well known author Homer Hickam, who also is from the Coalwood, West Virginia area. And in his speaking there, he talked about being from a family, a long line of a family, of coal miners from his father to his grandfather and how through them he learned about the importance and the vitality and the sacrifice of the coal miner and a lesson that his father was able to teach him that as long as the coal mining business would thrive, so would this country.
And he also talked about the coal mining industry being the lifeblood of this nation for so many reasons. Randi Kaye is there outside the chapel there in West Virginia on the Wesleyan College campus.
And he really did hit home with some very important vital points, didn't he, Randi, on the kind of sacrifice these men have made, whether it be on a day-to-day basis, when they made a commitment to go into the coal mining or whether it was over the long term to be so committed to this industry that really is the lifeblood not just of the country, as Homer Hickham was saying, but really the lifeblood of these communities as well.
KAYE: Absolutely, Fredricka. And gaining more important importance every day as we turn to coal for energy more and more. They're opening more of these mines. So we're going to see more of these miners going into these deeper mines. But it is a very important livelihood here. It is the root of this community. And many of the family members that I spoke with, including Peggy Cohen, whose father was Fred Ware, Jr, who died in this mining accident, he would call her every day when he got home from work at the mine and let her know that he got home safely.
And that was very important to them. Because they know the risks. They know the danger of when they go in every day. But there's also something to be said for the joy, the love and the commitment that they had to their jobs. Fred Ware, Jr. would bring lomb a piece of coal for his grandsons, Peggy's children, and he would paint it with clear nail polish for them. And show them how to bring the fossils out.
So it is something that the generations would enjoy together many of the families here are generations and generations of coal miners. So certainly a big part of the community. And every time now, even after covering this story, you open your refrigerator, you turn on the light, you think of these coal miners and those before them and those who will come after them.
WHITFIELD: And Randi, I think, very sadly, we've all learned through this tragedy, too, about the commitment and the bravery that all these coal miners had. And we heard that being reminded to us by the letter that was left by Martin Toler saying, "It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. Tell all I'll see them on the other side. I love you." We've learned so much through this entire past couple of weeks of tragedy and through this tribute as well.
Well, just as the community has pulled together in its grief, the families' losses are as individual as the men. Fred Ware Jr. had resigned himself to an awful fate in the mines, maybe because he had previously been injured in one. He often told his fiancee, he would some day die in the mines. Ware was 59.
Tom Anderson was a ten-year veteran of the mines and an operator of a shuttle car. He was 39 years old. Martin Toler, as we mentioned, Martin Toler, Jr., had spent most of his life in the mines. That experience led to the 50-year-old serving as the mine's foreman and one who left a letter.
And Terry Helms was also 50 years old. He had been a coal miner for more than 30 years yet refused to allow his son to work there. Coal mining ran in the family for Jerry Groves. The third generation miner was hoping to retire soon, in April, in fact, Jerry Groves was 57.
Mining was the only job Alva Martin Bennett ever had. His father was a miner and so is his son. His brother-in-law was among the handful of miners to escape after the explosion. David Lewis worked in the mine so he could baby-sit his three daughters at night. That allowed his wife to pursue her master's degree. And 54-year-old George Hamner, Jr. spent nearly half of his life in the mines, leaving for a time when he gained weight. He then lost some 200 pounds and decided to return back to the mining industry.
Jack Weaver also spent 26 years in the mines. Weaver leaves behind a wife and an 11-year-old son. Jim Bennett was only a few months from retirement. He spent 25 years as a miner, a job that he loved, but he knew its perils and would come home each night and pray for the other miners. Fifty-year-old Marshall Winans was also a deeply religious man. His family says he had been a minister for 20 years. He'd been a miner even longer than that.
Jesse L. Jones was 44 years old. He had spent 16 years in the mines along with his brother who managed to escape after the explosion.
And that leaves the sole survivor, Randy McCloy, Jr. He, too, is being remembered in today's services. His candle will be the only one of color, and it was lit. You saw his wife Anna in the audience. Organizers say it will represent hope.
And -- Yes, go ahead, Randi.
KAYE: This memorial service is really supposed to be about hope. And I thought one sign of it really comes from Caitlin Jones, the 12- year-old daughter of Jesse Jones, who you mentioned, she wrote a letter to God after losing her father in the mine. And she wrote, you just needed my dad to fill up an empty space in your beautiful garden. So she understands what happened. And she's forgiving what happened here. And I think the community in time will learn to do the same. WHITFIELD: And thank you so much, Randi, for your input throughout this hour in this special tribute that we've been able to bring to you at home, the memorial for the Sago miners out of West Virginia. And of course we'll have more on this memorial service later on in our broadcast at the 4:00 p.m. hour on more of CNN LIVE SUNDAY. And of course, tonight at 9:00 Eastern, hope, honor and healing on "LARRY KING LIVE." Also ahead on CNN SUNDAY, a check of the headlines right after this.
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