President George W. Bush traveled to western Pennsylvania Monday to meet with the nine coal miners rescued July 28 from a flooded mineshaft. Their miraculous rescue after almost 80 hours underground captivated the nation.
The president stood in a volunteer fire station in suburban Pittsburgh, gazing out at the miners, their families and rescue workers. He said, simply, "we are here to celebrate life."
"I believe that what took place here in Pennsylvania really represents the best of our country - what I call 'the spirit of America,'" said Mr. Bush.
The "miracle miners," as some call them, were eased up from the abandoned mine shaft one by one in the early morning hours of July 28. It was a difficult and painstaking rescue operation, with workers drilling through nearly 75 meters of soil and rock in a race against the clock.
The president praised the work of the rescue teams, saying they gave of themselves to help others. "They came to work hour after hour. Many of them were volunteers," he noted. "None asked, 'where am I going to get my next paycheck from?' All asked, 'what can I do as an American to help a neighbor in need?'"
There were warm words for the families who never lost hope, and the mine engineers who donated their technical expertise. But the president said most of all, the spirit of America is embodied by the nine miners who knew they needed each other in order to survive. "They huddled to keep warm. They said prayers to keep their spirits up. They understood they needed to tie together to fight the underground current," said Mr. Bush. "It was their determination to stick together and comfort each other that really defines a new spirit that is prevalent in our country, that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer, that in order to succeed we have got to be united."
President Bush said that spirit of teamwork and unity will help America prevail in the major challenges facing the country: defeating terrorism, building the economy, and eradicating pockets of poverty and despair.