A decade after they lost a son and brother, the Milam family still finds things out about Maj. Ron Milam. And no matter how many years pass, their lives will never be the same.
Killed Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked jet slammed into the Pentagon, Ron Milam continues to inspire memories from Muskogee, Okla., to Washington, D.C., and push those that knew him to be better leaders and better people.
“His mindset was ‘do what you’ve got to do and get it done,’” said younger brother Steve. “Even though he went to the military and I was surprised, I didn’t feel like he would struggle.”
Born Aug. 11, 1968, in Muskogee, Ron Milam grew up there with an ordinary life — both parents teachers, with summers spent at the YMCA and occasional vacations to places such as Kansas City or St. Louis.
But there was always more than advertised with “Ronnie,” whom his mother Effie said played every sport offered at Muskogee High School until his sophomore year, when he decided to focus on basketball and earn an athletic scholarship.
That’s exactly what Steve Milam figured would happen.
“He was a very competitive and a very tough player,” said Steve, four years younger than Ron. “He was a leader on the floor. It didn’t matter the opponent, the seniority of other players. When he stepped on the floor, he definitely wanted to be in charge.”
Two years later, that’s exactly what happened — and Effie found out by reading the next day’s newspaper. Ron had signed a letter of intent to play for Earl Diddle at Oklahoma Panhandle State, and just figured his mother — who taught at MHS — was busy with other things.
“I told him, ‘I could have been in the paper for a change,’” she said with a laugh. “I was so upset at him.’”
He grew a bond with Diddle, to say the least. Family members said they’d call Diddle’s house when Ron didn’t answer at his residence. And it was no shock at all when Milam followed Diddle to Eastern New Mexico University.
After two years at Panhandle, and two years at Eastern, the family figured he’d take a job offer to join Diddle’s coaching staff.
But Ron had a few more surprises. He was joining the Army because he wanted to see the world, and he’d made second lieutenant in college ROTC training.
“I was shocked,” Effie said. “I didn’t find out until Steve told me. I said, ‘He can’t do that, he’s crazy. Coach Diddle offered him a coaching job, so he can’t do that.’”
The 1991 ENMU graduate moved quickly through the ranks, and was serving as military assistant for the Secretary of Army, Manpower and Reserve Affairs in 2001.
“Ron, like all of the other people who lost their lives, was a very special person,” Steve said. “I don’t know how to put it, but it is good to know we keep their memories alive. It helps a great deal.”
An ENMU scholarship and Muskogee golf tournament were named in his honor, and buildings are dedicated to him across Oklahoma, including the MHS gymnasium.
Every September, dozens of reporters call Effie to talk about her son.
Steve, meanwhile, bought a Wingstop franchise in Fort Worth, Texas, a few years ago, because he and Ron always talked about starting a business.
He wishes he had Ron to share the business with, or play Madden with, or just hear his laugh. The feeling never leaves him.
“I was just thinking about that all week, given the anniversary,” he said. “Sincerely, I don’t think I will ever have closure, to be honest. I can get better with time, but I will never get that sense of closure I hear about.”