As Prepared for Delivery -
To all the families who loved the miners we've lost; to all those who called them friends, worked alongside them in the mines, or knew them as neighbors, in Montcoal, Naoma, or Whitesville; in the Coal River Valley and across West Virginia - let me begin by saying that we have been mourning with you throughout these difficult days. Our hearts ache. We also keep in our thoughts the survivors who are recovering and resting in a hospital and at home.
We are here to memorialize 29 Americans: Carl Acord. Jason Atkins. Christopher Bell. Gregory Steven Brock. Kenneth Allan Chapman. Robert Clark. Charles Timothy Davis. Cory Davis. Michael Lee Elswick. William I. Griffith. Steven Harrah. Edward Dean Jones. Richard K. Lane. William Roosevelt Lynch. Nicholas Darrell McCroskey. Joe Marcum. Ronald Lee Maynor. James E. Mooney. Adam Keith Morgan. Rex L. Mullins. Joshua S. Napper. Howard D. Payne. Dillard Earl Persinger. Joel R. Price. Deward Scott. Gary Quarles. Grover Dale Skeens. Benny Willingham. Ricky Workman.
Nothing I say can fill the hole they leave in your hearts; the absence they leave in your lives. If any comfort can be found, it can, perhaps, be found by seeking the face of God, who quiets our troubled minds, mends our broken hearts, and eases our mourning souls.
Even as we mourn 29 lives lost, we also remember 29 lives lived. Up at 4:30, 5 at the latest, they began their day, as they worked, in darkness. In coveralls and hard-toe boots, a hardhat over their heads, they would sit quietly for their hour-long journey, 5 miles into the mountain, the only light the lamp on their caps, or the glow from the mantrip they rode in.
Day after day, they would burrow into the coal, the fruits of their labor, what we so often take for granted: the electricity that lights up convention centers like this; that lights up our churches and homes, our schools and offices; the energy that powers our country and the world.
Most days, they would emerge from the dark mine, squinting at the light. Most days, they would emerge, sweaty, dirty, dusted with coal. Most days, they would come home. Most days, but not that day.
These men - these husbands, fathers, and grandfathers, brothers and sons - they did not take on their jobs unaware of the perils. Some of them had already been injured or seen a friend get hurt.
They knew there were risks, and so did their families. They knew their kids would say a prayer at night before they left. They knew their wives would wait for a call when their shift ended saying everything was ok. They knew their parents felt a pang of fear every time a breaking news alert came on, or the radio cut in.
But they left for the mines anyway - some, having waited all their lives to be miners; having longed to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. And yet, none of them did it for themselves alone.