The Times West Virginian

November 20, 2013

Joe Megna’s father was working last shift before retirement when killed in 1968 Farmington mine blast

By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Nov. 20, 1968, could have easily been a day of trout fishing for Emilio Megna.

The night before, his son Joe unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to skip work, join him on a fishing trip and begin his retirement one day early.

But instead, Emilio did what he had done for the past 31 years. He put on his hard hat and went to work in the coal mine.

“He said, ‘I owe them that much,’” Joe said.

So while Emilio was getting ready for his last shift at the Farmington No. 9 mine, Joe was spending the night at his best friend Danny’s house. Once Emilio’s retirement was official, he and Danny had planned to go into business together and open a gas station in Worthington.

That plan would never come to fruition.

“I’ll never forget it. While I was staying at Danny’s house his mom hollered upstairs and asked where my dad worked,” Megna said. “I said, ‘No. 9’ and she said, ‘It blew up.’” 

Megna said he took off running down the hill to his house where he turned on the TV to confirm the news before driving to the site of the disaster.

“Everybody met at the company store and stood there and waited in the cold for them to come along and tell us what was happening,” Megna said.

Seventy-eight men lost their lives in the explosion that day. Nineteen of them, including Emilio, who was 48, were never recovered.

Megna said that from that moment on, his life would be forever changed.

“My mom raised me and my sisters,” he said. “I was the youngest and she had her hands full, so I worked from the time I was 16 until I retired because we had no money coming in at the time.” 

Megna held odd jobs, from working in gas stations to furniture stores, before eventually ending up in the coal mines himself.

“It paid top rate. Fifty dollars a day,” Megna said.

But the thought of his father and that fateful day at Farmington No. 9 was never far away.

“I was on the mine rescue team, and when we would practice we went over to No. 9,” Megna said. “That’s where we trained.” 

Megna said the training at No. 9 stirred up memories and that to this day he still questions what went wrong 45 years ago.

“I’ll go to my grave never knowing,” Megna said. “But I will find out one day. Not here, but some place else.” 

Megna said he knows the family members of the other miners who were killed that day feel the same.

“There were 78 families involved,” Megna said. “It’s a never-ending story when you don’t have closure and there are 19 bodies left in the mines, even if it was almost 50 years ago.”

Every year, Megna and his family honor those men whose lives were claimed in the mine disaster at the annual remembrance service at the Farmington No. 9 Mine Memorial on Flat Run Road in Mannington.

There, Megna pays tribute to his father in a special way.

“I have a stone right there at the No. 9 memorial for my dad,” Megna said. “It has my dad’s name on it.”

Two years ago, when Megna’s mother, Gladys, passed away on Nov. 17, 2011, from breast cancer, her name was added to the stone.

“She was cremated and we buried her right there with my dad,” Megna said.

Megna said November is a difficult month for him and his family, but he added that if nothing else, the disaster of 1968 at least called for some change.

“That’s what gave the federal government power to oversee the mines,” Megna said in reference to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which created mine safety regulations to protect miners. “I hope one of these days they can stop the unnecessary accidents that happen.” 

Although Megna has several questions that remain unanswered after all these years, there’s one thing about his father that he’s sure of.

“He was the hardest working man there ever was,” he said.

Email Kaylyn Christopher at kchristopher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.