Recalling those who died in the mill
WEIRTON – Ann Bray quietly wiped the tears from her eyes Monday as she listened to the reading of the names of 117 men who were killed while working at the Weirton Steel plant.
Bray sat with her sister, Edie Higgins, during the fourth-annual ceremony at the Steelworkers Memorial Park to remember those who gave their lives in the mill.
“It has been nearly 65 years since our brother William Young was killed in 1949 when a crane in the Tin Mill came by and knocked him off a catwalk. He was 27 years old at the time of his death and I still miss him. He was a good big brother,” Bray said after the 45-minute event.
“It was a beautiful ceremony and very lovely. I’m glad we went,” said Bray of Toronto.
Fred King, who died during the building of the “new” Open Hearth on Sept. 18, 1951, was represented Monday by his son, Don King.
“My dad was 50 years old. He was working up on a structure when a crane knocked him to the ground.
“I was working about 100 feet away and didn’t know what happened at the time. But then I had to tell my mother about my dad being killed. It was tough,” related Don King.
They were among the approximately 75 people who gathered on a chilly morning to listen to Lindsay Clifton talk about her late Uncle Marvin Clifton who was killed while working on an October night shift in 1999 when he was struck by a railroad car that had left the tracks.
“My uncle left behind a wife, three daughters and eight future grandchildren. He never got to see any of his children graduate or walk down the aisle. He never got a chance to meet his grandchildren,” Clifton said.
“He was a funny guy. When my uncle and my dad were kids they were each allowed to pick out a favorite cereal. My father said he would pick the sugar coated cereal while my Uncle Clifton would pick one no one liked. Then he would eat my dad’s cereal before he moved onto the plain cereal. I later heard stories how my dad and uncle would build wooden go-carts and race them down a hill until they crashed,” related Lindsay Clifton.
“My cousins and I were about the same age and I would stay at their house on the weekends. My uncle would make up scary stories for us and then give us chocolates so we wouldn’t tell on him for telling us scary stories.
“He also created huge Easter egg hunts that would take forever. I loved to draw when I was a kid and once showed him a drawing of a tiger. He asked if he could have the drawing and he hung it behind his recreation room bar like it was something special,” continued Lindsay Clifton.
“I was 15 years old when my uncle was hurt in that terrible accident. We don’t blame Weirton Steel because we knew things could happen in the mill. I am personally happy no one has has been fatally hurt since 1999,” concluded Lindsay Clifton.
Marvin Clifton’s youngest daughter, Nicole Vana, has attended every memorial service since the event was organized four years ago.
And on Monday morning Nicole brought her baby, Joseph, who was born last week.
“I like coming to these services. It is comforting,” she remarked.
“No words I can say can convey your loss. The people who came to work on the day they didn’t get to go home left us with a safer work place. Please know your loss was not in vain. We are a safer workplace today than we were in past years,” said Bob Hoover, a local pastor and veteran steelworker.
Organizer Mike Jacobs asked anyone who lost a family member to consider speaking at next year’s memorial service.
“We want to put a face and a life with the names on the wall. These men who were killed in the mill had family and friends and we want to remember them for years to come,” said Jacobs, who serves as the United Steelworkers Local 2911 health and safety coordinator.
“ArcelorMittal Steel takes safety very seriously. Plant Manager Brian James starts every meeting talking about safety. We are very serious about adding another name to this memorial wall. Our sincere thoughts go out to the families here today because of the men who gave their lives while working in the mill. I walk around the steel mill where people lost their lives. And I know we have a sacred duty to create the safest work environment we can,” said USW Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis.
James said the ArcelorMittal safety philosophy calls for everyone, “to stop, think and act safely in practice. It is important for all of us to act safely at all times.”
And according to ArcelorMittal USA general counsel Paul Liebenson, “it is a corporate safety philosophy that reaches to the very top of the company.
“When Mr. Mittal holds his quarterly telephone conference call with investors and Wall Street analysts he starts his conversation talking about safety in the steel plants. Our single most important mission at ArcelorMittal is zero accidents. Our work isn’t done. We require our managers to spend at least 20 percent of their time on the shop floor so employees know how important safety is in the mill,” said Liebenson.
The solemn memorial service continued with the reading of the names of the men listed on the memorial wall with each name punctuated by the ringing of a bell by volunteers Enid Williams and Diana Durst.
And pastor and veteran steelworker Bob Macek, a Strip Steel electrician, provided the closing prayer before “Amazing Grace” was played by bagpiper Stephen Holter.
“It gets personal for us at this point because we worked with some of the people we remember today. Every day started out as an ordinary day for all of us. But today is their day … those who didn’t go home after work.
“This is a day to remember them. Because these men were fatally injured in the past, our jobs today are safer. Let us always remember the names on this memorial wall,” stated Macek.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)