Sago Memorial Unveiled in Philippi

PHILIPPI — Those attending the dedication of the Sago Mine Disaster Memorial Stone at the Blue & Gray Park in Philippi Saturday listened in silence as Doug Schiefelbein, master of ceremonies, described the events of the morning of Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, the day of the Sago Mine Disaster.

"While most of us slept or were just beginning to stir, 13 miners were hard at work at the Sago Coal Mine near Buckhannon when an explosion trapped them far underground," he said. "Twelve of them eventually perished and the sole survivor was critically injured.

"Three of the miners had resided in Barbour County and a fourth was from here."

Schiefelbein said everyone remembers the media coverage, the ebbs and flow of emotions during the hours of the rescue and the deep and lingering sorrow.

"Gone now for more than a decade, but never forgotten," he said.

Philippi Main Street began a campaign in 2008 to honor those who lost their lives in the Sago Mine disaster. The Sago Mine Disaster Memorial Stone was made by Upshur County artist Ross Straight, who is deceased. His design depicts the miners waiting to be rescued.

Rev. Wease Day, pastor of the Sago Baptist Church, where the miners' families gathered and waited for news of the rescue efforts, gave the invocation for Saturday's dedication.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she still is sad when she thinks about the Sago Mine disaster. She said one individual had a shirt that said Sago 2006 - gone but not forgotten.

"I think that is how we all feel," Capito said. "I want to thank the city mothers and fathers and also Philippi Main Street for this great tribute and for putting together a lasting memorial to a very sad day."

Capito said she and many others remembered that they gathered in Sago, hoping and dreaming that things might turn out differently.

"What I reflect back on is not only the tremendous sadness, but the incredible strength and resilience of the families and the spiritual leaders who helped us all during those very difficult hours of waiting and wanting to have better results," Capito said. "This lasting memorial is going to be a physical reminder of the spiritual strength we have in our state."

Capito said as a consequence of what happened in Sago, meaningful mining safety legislation was passed.

"My hope is that the legislation will avert us having to join together on a hot summer day to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in a very honorable profession," Capito said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin thanked everyone who put Saturday's dedication together.

"I was Governor for one year when I received that horrible phone call," Manchin said. "My mind raced back to 1968 to the Farmington Mine disaster when my uncle and many of my classmates lost their lives."

He said his goal during the Sago Mine disaster was to make sure the families had the best information of what was happening.

"When I was driving up here today, my wife Gayle read to me Randal's letter he wrote to all of you," he said. "A flood of emotions comes back when you think about that. He was there with all of the loved ones. Nothing we can ever say is going to take the hurt away."

Since Sago, we have been changing laws in West Virginia and in Washington to make sure those changes were made to save miners.

"We have oxygen in the mines and life-safety cages for miners to go into until they are rescued," Manchin said. "All of these things happened because of the sacrifices your families have made and the lives of the loved ones we lost. They did not die in vain."

Jack Weaver was one of the miners who perished in the Sago Mine disaster. His wife Charlotte attended the dedication of the Sago Mine Disaster Memorial Stone Saturday.

"Today brings things back," she said. "The pain is always there but it's an honor to these men and they deserve it. We lost some good men but we made some good friends along the way. We are all like a big family now."

Charlotte Weaver said many of the miners lost in the Sago Mine Disaster gather on Jan. 2 at the monument in Sago.

"Some of the family members visit and we go out and have lunch together. We stay in contact and some of us are neighbors. We have lost a lot, but we have gained some, too."

During Saturday's dedication, the Philippi American Legion Post 44 presented the colors and led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of the Blue & Gray Community Choir, conducted by Dr. Judson Bracey performed the National Anthem and taps was played by Emily Wilkins. Karen Weaver and Tammy Stemple unveiled the Sago Mine Disaster Memorial Stone.

By:  Beth Christian Broschart
Source: The Inter-Mountain