Obama Pays Respects to West Virginia Miners

Twenty-nine tall white crosses stood at the foot of the stage at the Convention Center in Beckley, West Virginia, where hundreds of people gathered to pay tribute to the miners who died in the April 5 disaster at Upper Big Branch mine.

As is tradition, a family member came forward and placed their loved one's mining helmet atop a white cross -- a powerful symbol of the lives lost in the tragedy.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both traveled here today and met personally with the families of the lost miners. The president gave the eulogy in a community memorial service to honor the miners and their legacy.

VIDEO:Obama Grieves With Families of Fallen Miners
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"All the hard work. All the hardship. All the time spent underground. It was all for their families. ... These miners lived -- as they died -- in pursuit of the American dream," the president said.

People came from around West Virginia and beyond, looking for words of comfort from the president, but mostly they came to comfort each other and to share their own stories of loss.

Jean Cook lost her 21-year-old nephew Adam Morgan in the mine disaster and had his name tattooed on her back as her own personal tribute. She's pleased the president has come to share their grief, but for her and many others here, healing can't happen until they have answers.

Faces of Tragedy: W. Va. Mine Victims

"I don't think you can heal until the mine investigation stuff is over with so it's not constantly being brought up," Cook said. "You're not gonna be able to heal until there's some closure in that."

In his tribute to the miners, the President Obama called for action to ensure such a disaster doesn't happen again.

"We cannot bring back the 29 men we lost. They are with the Lord now," he told the audience. "Our task, here on Earth, is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy. To do what must be done, individually and collectively, to assure safe conditions underground. To treat our miners the way they treat each other -- like family."

W. Va. Mine Explosion

As the light on each miner's hat was illuminated, and a chorus of "This Little Light of Mine" filled the auditorium, it was clear that this is a family wounded -- but far from broken.

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