National Guard corrects a grave situation
by George Neilan

Starting Sunday, June 10, as part of a training exercise, some members of the 821st Engineering Platoon of the Army National Guard worked for several days preparing the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster Workers Cemetery for a memorial dedication scheduled for Sept. 7.

The work included filling in a several foot deep dip at the entrance to the cemetery to improve access, grading to enlarge the parking area, and covering the parking area with compacted stone.
The National Guard also cut and removed several large dead trees and a few trees interfering with the filling and grading of the site.

Staff Sergeant Cory Heater, in command of the squad, when complemented about his squad’s performance, said: “A good thing about the Guard, there are so many jack-of-all trades here. It helps us accomplish so many of our missions.”

The cemetery is located on Whippoorwill Drive off US 19 south of Summersville. The remains are of some of the African American tunnel workers who died of acute silicosis from digging through almost pure silica in some areas of the tunnel. The Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster is considered America’s worst industrial disaster. These workers were initially buried in secrecy in a cornfield near Summersville in the early 1930s. About 40 years later, when US 19 was widened, the remains were moved to the present site.

Because of the historical significance of the cemetery, the Army National Guard headquarters in Charleston approved the Guard working on the site as a training exercise during a regularly scheduled two-week training period.
The Guard members who worked at the cemetery were the 2nd Squad of the 2nd Platoon- 821st Engineer Platoon. The Guard members and their hometowns are: SSG Corey Heater, Clarksburg; Sgt. Seth Light, Beckley; John Blankenship, Richwood; Robby Cummins, Beckley; Steve Cummins, Beckley; Raschell Davis, Moundsville; Shane Gibson, Monroe County; Micah Gilkeson, Monroe County; David Jarrett, Gassaway; Steven Mullins, Tioga; and Chance Ruble, Weston.

The Department of Highways, both because of the historical significance of the cemetery and because DOH owns the cemetery site, generously donated fill material including stone for the National Guard to use. John Jarrell, supervisor of the Nicholas County office of DOH, coordinated with SSG Heater the delivery of fill material.
Charlotte Neilan, publisher of The Nicholas Chronicle, and a driving force behind the memorial dedication, expressed her pleasure and gratitude saying: “We cannot say enough good things about these young guardsmen. They’re the ‘cream of the crop.’ When not defending our country, they are helping with community projects. They were extremely efficient; but also left ‘a light footprint‘ on the hallowed ground.”

The memorial dedication on Sept.7, is presently planned to start at 1 p. m. in the auditorium of Old Main in Summersville. There will be light refreshments afterwards, and transportation for those wishing to go to the cemetery. Those who desire a guided tour of historic Old Main should come at noon.