Fifty-one years after the tragic event, it would be easy for the United Mine Workers to gradually downplay the annual memorial service honoring those killed in a mine explosion at U.S. Steel Corp.’s Robena Mine.
But each year since 1963, UMW Robena Local 6321 and UMW District 2 assemble Dec. 6 to honor the 37 miners who died in one of Greene County’s worst mining disasters.
About 1 p.m. Dec. 6, 1962, an explosion ripped through Robena Mine, starting from a point about 650 feet below the ground and about 2 miles from the base of Frosty Run Shaft. The force of the explosion was so strong it knocked down men who were working more than 2 miles away, witnesses said.
All told, 170 men were in the mine at the time of the explosion. The 37 miners who died were members of a continuous-miner crew.
The explosion is believed to have been caused by a buildup of methane gas resulting from a temporary shutdown of ventilation fans. The gas was ignited by a spark from mine equipment.
The explosion at Robena was the worst mine disaster in Greene County since May 19, 1928, when an explosion at Mather Mine took the lives of 195 miners. While it is the miners who are remembered, the memorial service is as much a tribute to the UMW leadership that has vowed “to always hold on their behalf a service, at this location, on this day, so that the living shall never forget their sacrifice that helped bring forth strong health-and-safety laws that protect us all.”
This annual service brings into focus the closeness of the mining fraternity. Loss invariably has a way of strengthening bonds among workers whose jobs carry extraordinary risks.
Speakers traditionally tell of the sacrifice of the 37 miners and the significance of their deaths in forcing Congress to pass new laws regarding mine safety. We know that after 51 years, the UMW leadership has never lost sight of those sacrifices. The memorial service planned 11 days from today demonstrates that.
As for the families of those miners, we can only hope they take solace that their loved ones will never be forgotten.