BP Oil Spill: Families Gather to Honor 11 Who Died, Express Frustration With BP, Transocean

Memorial for 11 dead held this afternoon in Jackson, Miss.

ByBradley Blackburn
May 25, 2010, 1:02 PM

May 25, 2010— -- Eleven bronze hardhats and a white cross were lined up at the base of the podium beneath banner listing the names of the 11 men who died when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the memorial ceremony in Jackson, Miss., organized by the rig's owner Transocean, was tinged with frustration and suspicion by the families of the dead.

Watch 'ABC World News with Diane Sawyer' for more coverage of today's memorial service

"All of us come here today bearing a burden," said Larry Mills, human resources manager for Transocean. "Few of us, few here bear the burden of the employees and crew members who were aboard the Horizon that difficult and horrific tragic night. And even fewer bear the burden of those who are seated here in the front rows -- the wives, the children, the parents and the brothers and sisters."

Steve Newman, president and CEO of Transocean, took time to recognize the surviving crew of the April 20 explosion and share stories about the men who had died.

Speaking about one of those men, longtime employee Aaron Dale Burkeen, Newman said, "There are many of you here today who knew Dale. [...] Dale was indeed one of those guys who made the world around him better."

Many of the families who gathered in Jackson's convention center for today's service did so with mixed emotions.

Mary and Robert Burkeen, parents of Dale Burkeen, weren't sure about the motives behind the memorial service.

The Burkeens spoke with ABC's Diane Sawyer on Monday about the loss of their son and their frustrations with the way Transocean and BP have dealt with their family and the wider disaster.

"I'm going there to honor my son, that's the only reason," said Mary Burkeen. "If it weren't for that, I wouldn't go because I think they're doing it for a show. I don't think it's coming from their heart."

Family Feels Their Loss Being Overlooked

As the nation's attention is focused the oil now clogging the marshes of the Gulf coast, the family feels that their loss is being forgotten in all the worry over the ecological impact of the spill.

"I feel like we have lost more than anybody else," said Mary Burkeen. "Our son, we'll never get him back. When they get all this cleaned up, they can have their shrimps and their turtles and everything back. But we're never going to have our son back."

The Burkeens and sisters Felicia Hamilton and Janet Woodson described Dale as a caring and honorable son, brother and father.

He was a generous man, always ready to help out his extended family and in one remarkable case, a neighbor.

According to his father, when a fire broke out in Dale's neighborhood, his family's home and all their possessions were destroyed along with a nearby trailer home. Though the family had insurance, Dale's wife was given $1,000 by her colleagues at work to help the family recover. Instead, Dale gave the money to their neighbors in the trailer home, who did not have insurance and whose child had been burned in the fire.

"He carried that money over and gave it to them, and there's not too many people that I know of that would do things like that," his father said. "He was just a well-respected and liked young man."

Dale Burkeen took the job on the drilling rig to support his wife and his young son and daughter. The brutal schedule of the drilling rig wore on him, but he liked the work and the job paid well.

He was on board the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20th when the explosion rocked the rig and sparked the oil disaster. That date was also Dale's wedding anniversary, and now it also marks the date of his death. Had he survived the explosion, he would have turned 38 the following Saturday. Burkeen's body was never found following the explosion.

Dale's family said BP waited days to tell them he was gone, and they have never offered an explanation or apology.

"It makes me angry in a way, because there's got to be an explanation," said Felicia Hamilton. "It makes me wonder, what if it was their son or brother out there? Would they still say I have no explanation?"

"Does BP have any real compassion?" Sawyer asked.

"They have not called us one time to say we're sorry your son has lost his life out there," said Mary, who wants to travel to the site of the rig to lay a wreath for her son. "I feel the only way I can come to a closure is when they get all this oil up."

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