Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Miner Memorial Service in Alabama
September 27, 2001
Good evening. Governor Siegelman, [Senator Shelby, Senator Sessions], Mayor Hyche, President Cecil Roberts, members of UMWA Local Union 2368, and families and friends of those who were lost: I want to thank you for inviting me to join you, representing our President, George W. Bush.
These have been heart-rending days. Just yesterday, I was in New York, standing at the spot that the entire world now knows as "Ground Zero," where the World Trade Center once stood.
And this afternoon, I visited another "Ground Zero" not very far from here, the site of the worst mining disaster in decades.
In both places, we have seen images of destruction that have forever seared our memory. And in the deepest darkness of these tragedies, we have also seen the best that America has to offer.
People rushing instinctively toward the danger - instead of away from it - to try to save others. We've all heard the stories of miners who barely escaped the first blast running back into the mine to help those still trapped. As one No. 5 miner, Michael Goggins, said, "They probably didn't even give it a second thought."
These are the heroes of America. Whether they were firefighters from Brooklyn, New York, or miners from Brookwood, Alabama, America's heroes are mostly ordinary people who do extraordinary things with extraordinary courage.
We also hear a refrain rippling across this country with a fervor that could make it our new national motto: "How can I help?"
That's the question on the lips of every single American today, as contributions pour into relief agencies and steelworkers volunteer for 12-hour search-and-rescue shifts. At the Department of Labor, one of our health and safety inspectors insisted on giving up his religious holidays so he could keep helping out.
Here in Brookwood, people are asking the same question: "How can I help?" When I served as President of United Way of America, I was deeply impressed by the generous heart of America. But in these last weeks, in small towns and big cities, that generous heart has poured open like never before.
At the same time, we Americans are a practical people. So we're also asking, "Why did this happen?" I must leave the theological answer to that question to the members of the clergy who are with us tonight.
But whether it be the terrorist attack on September 11th or the mine disaster that claimed 13 lives this last weekend, we are determined to do everything we possibly can to keep it from ever happening again.
I have directed the Mine Safety and Health Administration to conduct a full investigation immediately - to find out what went wrong and to identify what must be done to protect miners' lives in the future.
I know that is little consolation to the families, friends and co-workers of those who lost their lives in this accident. There is no government action that could possibly soothe the sadness that all of us feel.
But I wanted to be here on behalf of the Administration to assure you of one thing: even in the midst of everything else that is gripping our nation right now - defending America from further attacks and preparing for war against terrorism - your country shares in your grief.
We are praying with you, and we are standing with you.
Together, we will give each other the courage to walk through the days ahead. And may the "peace that passes all understanding" guard each of our hearts.