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Front Page » December 21, 2004 » Local News » Memorial for 20th Anniversary of the Wilberg Mine disaster
Published 4,445 days ago

Memorial for 20th Anniversary of the Wilberg Mine disaster

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The Wilberg Mine monument sits 5 miles from the Wilberg mine along the highway.

Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004 was the 20th anniversary of the fire at the Wilberg Mine that resulted in the death of 26 men and one woman. These miners were memorialized in a special ceremony at Emery High School. United Mine Workers Local #2176 Union President Warren Oviatt prepared for the memorial for 18 months. "We recognize that this tragedy happened 20 years ago. We hope and pray that something like this never happens again," said Oviatt in his opening remarks.

Nearly 500 people attended the memorial to remember fallen brothers, sister and co-workers. The Ferron Post #42 American Legion presented the colors, and retired UMWA member, local 6363, World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, Steve Milkovich lead the Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem was lead and sung by the Emery High A'Capella Choir.

A candle lighting ceremony was presented during which members of local unions lit a candle for each miner lost during the disaster. Each candleholder was engraved with the miner's name and following the ceremony, the candles were given to members of the miner's family.

Rep. Jim Matheson recalls the events surrounding the Wilberg Mine disaster.

Mike Dalpiaz, UMWA International, District 22 vice president introduced the speakers for the evening. UMWA President Cecil Roberts was the first to speak. He said, "The 27 candles burning to my left and right are appropriate. I was here 20 years ago and I can tell you that no words exist to bring comfort to those families. The only advice I could offer was to turn to the Lord. The greatest tribute we can pay these miners is to never forget them. Their lives should be celebrated, and we should also remember the miners and mine rescue teams who risked their lives to try and save their co-workers."

Congressman Jim Matheson said, "My father was the governor of Utah at the time of the disaster. He strongly felt that his place was here in Emery County with the families. I remember how shaken he was when he returned home." Rep. Matheson went on to give the history of the disaster 20 years ago. He stated that many people in the audience were not born when the fire happened and everyone needs to continually remember the order of events.

Joe Main, UMWA safety director then told everyone that the miners did not die in vain. Because of this tragedy and the work of the union, many laws have been enacted to make working conditions safer and better for todays coal miners. There are better, more compact self rescuers, that each miners carries on his person. Every miner is better trained and each mine has better escape plans. "Those miners gave more than their lives for all other miners," said Main.

The former Wilberg mine now known as the Cottonwood mine sits idle.

"Coal powers much of the country's electricity needs, so everyone in this nation is affected by what coal miners do for a living. We can never forget those 27 miners who gave their lives trying to make life better for others. Always remember those who did not come home on Dec. 19, 1984. It is our obligation to see that an event like this never happens again," stated Main.

Following the formal ceremony at EHS, a meal was served to those gathered for the memorial. Everyone then proceeded in a motorcade to the Monument site, located on the road to the Wilberg Mine.

In the cold evening air, everyone present was given an evergreen sprig. Prayers were said, more candles were lit, and tears were shed. At the conclusion of the service, each person placed their evergreen sprig at the foot of the memorial in tribute to the fallen miners of the Wilberg Mine.

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