Guard corrects a grave situation
by George Neilan
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
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.
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.