The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 6, 2013

In Whitesville, a place to go to remember

WHITESVILLE — Three years to the day after one of the most horrific workplace disasters in the history of the United States, people came to a memorial that sits along W.Va. 3 to remember the 29 coal miners who died at Upper Big Branch.

Kim Kinder, a barber, beautician and school bus driver in the neighboring town of Sylvester, knows a lot of people directly affected by the UBB disaster.

She came to the memorial, which also sits on the banks of the Big Coal River, early Friday to pay her respects.

“I knew a bunch of them,” she said. “This is a small town. You run into them, you know their faces.

“It was a very great loss, that many lives. It would be for any community.

“I think it’s a beautiful memorial,” Kinder added. “All these men would be very proud to know that people thought that much of them to build a memorial this beautiful.”

For Patty Manios, a councilwoman for the Town of Whitesville, the memorial holds a very personal and special place in her life in several ways.

“My husband is a retired administrator and had a lot of these men or their fathers in school,” she shared. “He knew them personally.

“And my grandfather worked in those same mines. He was killed in those same mines when I was little. It was a different portal though.”

Manios also stated that she is a proud “coal miner’s daughter.”

“My father is a retired coal miner; he worked 40-some plus years accident-free, thank God,” she said. “He started in the mines on his belly. Every time you flip on a lightswitch, every time you feel the heat come on ... we have to remember what these guys went in (the mines) and gave their lives for. That’s what our state is all about. That’s how I feel about it.”

Sheila Combs, president of Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial Group Inc., was a driving force behind the memorial.

“When a tragedy of this enormity happens in a community, it takes a long time to heal,” Combs said. “That’s why we were focused on making this a place to gather, to remember and to talk. The response that we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. We feel that every aspect of the memorial is very fitting and respectful.”

It’s not just on anniversary dates that the memorial is visited, Combs emphasized.

“You can drive by here any evening, any Saturday or Sunday, and there are people here,” she said. “People get it. It speaks to a lot of people on a lot of different levels.

“We welcome everyone to come.”

Manios reflected back on the time of the UBB disaster.

“You just waited,” she recalled. “You felt hopeless. That’s the way we felt as a community when it was all said and done. We were hopeless. What could you do? People knew that you loved them but what could you do?”

Manios then turned to the memorial and pointed.

“There it is,” she stated.

“When you drive by or walk by this memorial, you have to feel it.

“This memorial is something that not only the Town of Whitesville or one individual can be proud of,” Manios added. “This is statewide. This represents who we are.

“It’s a tribute. It’s not just a place to go to mourn. It’s a place to go to remember. It’s a 24/7 reminder. This memorial is proof that we will never forget them. Never.

“It will stand forever.”

— E-mail: jworkman@register-herald.com

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