By Katie Wilson
FLAT RUN — Many people gathered in the brisk November wind Sunday to honor those men who died in 1968 in the No. 9 mine disaster.
State and county leaders joined community members and mining officials on the 39th anniversary of the disaster to celebrate the lives and remember the sacrifices of the 78 deceased miners and their families.
This year’s event took place under the American flag that flew at the No. 9 mine on that fateful day. The flag, discolored by smoke that day, will be preserved at the local United Mine Workers of America office, officials said.
Miners Sam Smith and Mike Payton came to the memorial on behalf of their local organization of the UMWA.
“We’re here to honor them,” Smith said.
“We’re showing our respect,” Payton added.
Roger Sparks, a miner from Moundsville, attended the event to place a wreath on behalf of his local UMWA. Sparks said disasters like the No. 9 event ultimately make it safer for today’s miners.
“This disaster is still affecting us in the mines,” Sparks said.
Continuing lack of communication between officials above ground and miners on the job beneath the earth was a continuing theme among speakers.
Richard Eddy, international district vice president of the UMWA, noted how sad it is that astronauts can communicate with the mission control, yet there is next to no communication between miners and officials above ground.
“Look at the disasters like Sago, Aracoma and Crandall Canyon,” Eddy said. “If we could talk to them, they’d be here now.”
Keynote speaker Cecil Roberts, international president of the UMWA, called for people to not forget the 78 men who died and to honor their name and sacrifice with better communication and safety measures.
Roberts noted mine tragedies go beyond the mine. He said those that died in the No. 9 mine were members of the community, with families and friends above ground.
In response to the disaster, Congress passed mine safety laws in 1969. Roberts said those laws required better communication, safety chambers with oxygen and tracking devices on every miner.
“We still don’t have any of that in most mines today,” Roberts said. “If I sound angry, I am. This is nearly 40 years after this tragedy. As long as we don’t have coal miners killed by the dozens, no one is going to worry about us.”
He said even today, people are beginning to forget about even the most recent mining disasters.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Sago, I remember that. Wasn’t that in West Virginia?’” Roberts said. “It seems to me the only time people think about us is when a lot of us die at the same time.”
The memorial is held each year on the Sunday closest to the date of the disaster, Nov. 20. A memorial to those who died was erected at the unrecovered portion of the mine. The ground has been dedicated as a cemetery.
E-mail Katie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.