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By Sheila Combs- President, Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group Inc.
Recently I was asked why I felt that I needed to organize the group to build the memorial to the UBB miners. I had no family or close friends involved in the accident and only knew others by being “friends of friends” or someone’s relative; then why do I feel so strongly the memorial must be built and this incident must never be forgotten?
I have always had a strong sense of community and I believe that people from coal mining communities share an especially strong emotional bond, not just West Virginia, but all coal mining communities. Whenever a mine accident happens anywhere, it has an impact on all of us whose friends and families are miners. My father and grandfather were both coal miners, but as a youth I never thought of how dangerous the job was. All of my friends’ dads were coal miners. It is what people do for a living here. It fed, clothed and put a roof over our heads. I felt like I had everything I needed and most of what I wanted. It paid for a college education. My husband is employed by the railroad, which hauls coal, so again, the coal industry is still providing for me.
But the sense of community goes beyond the bond that is coal. It is being a part of a larger group, and with that, comes a sense of responsibility. I feel responsible to do the things I am capable of doing to make my community a better place. This community is where I live, where I work and where I go to church. It is where my family lives. It is where my friends live. It is where children go to school, play baseball, swim and go fishing. But this community is also where 29 men lost their lives providing for their families. This event expanded our community to include the whole state and, for a while, the whole country. Our community is where the healing begins. It is my hope that the UBB Memorial can help provide a sense of peace and healing to all who see it.