- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 25, 2010

UPDATED:

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Relatives of the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion packed a Beckley arena Sunday for a memorial service and a speech by President Barack Obama.

Many attendees at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center wore black ribbons with gold shovels and pick axes and several wore coal miners’ reflective uniforms for the afternoon memorial service.

Jean Cook of Pineville displayed a new tattoo on the back of her right shoulder in honor of her 21-year-old nephew, Adam Morgan, one of the miners killed in the April 5 explosion. Cook was reluctant to attend the memorial because she says it will take her days to recover.

“Did I want to? Emotionally, no,” she said. “All this has done a toll on my nerves. I just constantly cry. I don’t think there’s anything anybody can say.”

Don Blankenship, CEO of mine owner Massey Energy, mingled with the crowd before taking his seat near the back on the main floor. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was among those expected to be in attendance.

At an intersection several hundred yards from the convention center, traffic filed past three protesters who held signs that read “Thank God for dead miners” and “God is your enemy.”

Memorial attendees went through metal detectors before filing into the center. The memorial started with a prayer and several singing performances, including a woman who sang “Gone Too Soon” and “Stand By Me.”

The main stage was flanked by 29 white crosses. Behind it were photos of the miners and to the side a large wreath with 29 white roses, along with two yellow ones honoring the two who were injured in worst coal mining disaster in 40 years.

The ceremony began with first lady Gayle Manchin reading the names of the 29 miners. As the names were read, the miners’ families entered to take their seats.

Adding to the solemn tone of the memorial was the death of a worker last week at an International Coal Group mine at Eccles, less than 30 miles from the Upper Big Branch mine.

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