Obama expressed gratitude for the work the men performed and the contribution they made to the country.
“Five miles into a mountain they would burrow into the coal,” the president said. “The fruits of their labor we so often take for granted — the electricity that lights up our churches, our homes, our schools, our offices, the energy that powers our country, the energy that powers the world.”
Obama echoed the thoughts of both Gov. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who promised the families of the fallen men to work toward making coal mining safer.
“How can we fail them?” the president asked. “How can a nation that relies upon its miners not protect them? Our task here on earth is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy – to do what we must do individually and collectively to ensure safe conditions underground.’
Gov. Manchin said the task of understanding the explosion that killed the miners is their legacy.
“I don’t have the answers about why this has happened,” Manchin said. “But I promise you we well find out and I pledge that your loved ones will not have died in vain.”
Rockefeller also promised to support the investigation into the disaster.
“The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster,” Sen. Rockefeller said. “We ask, how did this happen, again? We ask, why? And we will find out. We will get answers. For you — for the families.”
Many attendees wore black ribbons with gold shovels and pick axes. The service started with a prayer and several songs, including “Gone Too Soon” and “Stand By Me.”
As first lady Gayle Manchin read the names of the 29 miners, the families entered and the governor helped one member from each place a white miner’s helmet on a corresponding cross. At the end of service, a miners’ lamp on each helmet was lit to the song “This little light of mine.”
Behind the crosses were photos of the miners and to the side a large wreath with 29 white roses, along with two yellow ones honoring the two who were injured in the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years.
In a brief speech, the governor paid tribute to the miners, their families and the rescue teams that went into the mine and helped bring the bodies out.
Vice President Joe Biden said he felt the men who died were humble and would be surprised by the attention given to them.
“There are 29 roughneck angels watching over us,” Biden said. “They are wondering ‘Is all this fuss about me?’”
Don Blankenship, CEO of mine owner Massey Energy, who sat near the back o the main floor, and Sen. Robert C. Byrd were also among those in attendance.