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 Post subject: Homer Hickam - Sago Memorial Remarks
PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2009 11:55 am 
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Location: SW Indiana
Sago Miners Memorial Remarks
By Homer Hickam

January 15, 2006

Families of the Sago miners, Governor Manchin, Mrs. Manchin,
Senator Byrd, Senator Rockefeller, West Virginians, friends,
neighbors, all who have come here today to remember those brave
men who have gone on before us, who ventured into the darkness but
instead showed us the light, a light that shines on all West Virginians
and the nation today:
It is a great honor to be here. I am accompanied by three men I grew
up with, the rocket boys of Coalwood: Roy Lee Cooke, Jimmie O'Dell
Carroll, and Billy Rose. My wife Linda, an Alabama girl, is here with
me as well.
As this tragedy unfolded, the national media kept asking me: Who are
these men? And why are they coal miners? And what kind of men
would still mine the deep coal?
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 have written, I have never captured in so few words
a message so powerful or 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 of the men who were with him
that day. These were obviously not ordinary men.
But 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 a trudging
grace to and from vast, deep mines. And in the schools, the children
still learn and the teachers teach, and, in snowy white churches built
on hillside cuts, the preachers still preach, and God, who we have no
doubt is also 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, or 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 were hurt. My grandfather lost both his legs in the
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. After that
he worked in the mine for fifteen more 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, that maybe it wasn't such
an ordinary place at all. I realized that 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 had
adopted a philosophy of life that consisted of these 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 simple approaches to life, they became a people
who were 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. 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
his spot of light in my face and explained to me what mining meant to
him. He said, "Every day, I ride the mantrip down the main line, get
out and walk back into the gob and feel the air pressure on my face. I
know the mine like I 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 company's promised to load won't get loaded.
Coal is the life blood of this country. If we fail, the country fails."
And then he said, "There's no men in the 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 the coal miner. We could
not prosper without him. God in His wisdom 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 so I went on to explain that,
yes, it's hard work but, when it all comes together, 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 is a beauty in anything well done, and that goes for a life well

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 we wish to accord them.
No matter what else might be said or done concerning these events,
let us forever be reminded of who these men really were and what
they believed, and who their families 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, that we are still the home 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 to the light, and say for the
nation and all 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.

I don't have all the answers.
I don't even know all the questions!

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