WHITESVILLE, W.Va. — Four years have elapsed since the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, and the grief is still there for those connected to the tragedy.
“I have a lot of bad days, but I have to keep going because I have other children and my grandchildren,” said Pamela Napper. She lost her son Joshua Napper along with her brother and nephew in the Upper Big Branch Mine.
“I have to keep going because I know in my heart it’s what Josh would want, but it’s hard.”
Pamela Napper has moved to Meigs County, Ohio, but no matter where she lives, she said she’ll always be tied to the other family members and neighbors who were touched that tragic day in 2010.
In Whitesville, just a few miles up Route 3 from where the disaster happened, a long granite memorial pays a haunting tribute to the 29 workers who died.
“This is something that never really goes away, and shouldn’t go away,” said Sheila Combs, president of the UBB Memorial Committee. “When we forget our history we’re doomed to repeat. I think it will be a long, long time before the community heals from this.”
Combs led the campaign to build the memorial. Since then, it’s become a bandage of healing in the community.
“We hope the community gets something from it,” she said. “It will stand forever, it will be a place for generations to come, to remember this incident that happened here.”
This weekend a number of memorial wreathes adorn the monument in the middle of town. But it’s a place often visited by those grieving to spend time in quiet reflection away from the ceremony and bright lights of the media.
Combs said much like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., people regularly leave tributes and tokens of remembrance.
“We’ll go up to clean or do maintenance and various things will be laying up there,” she said. “We’ve found pictures, cards, flowers, a railroad light I guess, a small Bible once. Just different mementos.”
Flowers are discarded when they have wilted, but the rest of the memorabilia is stored in two tubs in the Whitesville Town Hall offices. Combs said the committee hopes to eventually open a museum to permanently display those objects.
Elsewhere, the anniversary was also being commemorated. A display has been set up for the weekend at the state Culture Center at the state capitol, where Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin paid his respects by writing a note in a memorial book.
“I encourage West Virginians to take a moment to visit the memorial in the Culture Center Great Hall—share your thoughts and prayers and pay tribute to the 29 miners and their families,” Tomblin said. “Joanne and I also ask West Virginians to join us in a moment of silence, tomorrow at 3:01 p.m., to honor their memory.”