Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
Reporter: Noelle Bartl
Many of you may remember Ron Milam as a Greyhound basketball player from 1989-1991. He loved the sport and followed the Greyhounds even after his graduation. And some of you will remember that Ron was commissioned in the U.S. Army through the ROTC Program at Eastern. He had just completed ten years of military service working for the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army at the time of his death. His wife, U.S. Army Captain Jacqueline Milam, and two small children survive Major Milam.
As a tribute to Ron, and the many victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Eastern alumni and friends have organized the Major Ron D. Milam Memorial Scholarship Fund benefiting the men's basketball team athletes. The Friends of Eastern Foundation invites you to make a gift in memory of this Eastern hero and alumnus.
Gifts can be made securely online at the www.enmu.edu website by clicking on the "Give to ENMU" button on the left, or by mailing contributions to the Friends of Eastern Foundation, ENMU Station 8, Portales, NM 88130. For more information, call the Development Office at 505.562.2412.
Former ENMU Basketball Player Was Living His Dream
by Haley Rice
CLOVIS – In his office at Garden City Community College in Kansas, Coach Earl Diddle has a poster on his wall with a picture of Ronald "Ronnie" Milam playing basketball against a background of the American flag.
On the poster are the words "Ron Milam was a total officer."
The phrase is a quote from the memorial service held in Milam's honor after he was killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. Before Milam was a Major in the U.S. Army, he was the first high school basketball player Diddle recruited to play for his team.
Milam, a native of Muskogee, Okla., played basketball under Diddle for two years at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, and when the coach transferred to Eastern New Mexico University in 1988, Milam did too. Coach and player maintained a strong relationship for 13 years after Milam's college ball days were over. Diddle watched with pride as Milam's involvement in the ROTC turned into a successful career in the Army and an appointment to serve in the Pentagon in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army.
On Sept. 11, Diddle was walking off the court after practice at a Kansas junior college, when he heard the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and later, the Pentagon. "It was later that night or the next day that Ronnie's mother called and said Ronnie was missing, but they still had hope," he said.
A few weeks later, Diddle was asked to speak at a memorial service in Muskogee for Milam.
"I made a point to get there early and the church was beautiful, and when you walked in there was this big picture of him there, and I immediately turned around and walked back out. I found myself sobbing. I'll never forget it — an elderly lady put a handkerchief in my hand and didn't say a word." nnn Milam, 33, was a family man. He and his wife, Army Capt. Jacqueline Milam, had moved to the D.C. area in July 2000, and Jacqueline was expecting their second child when Milam was killed.
John McLaurin, assistant Secretary of the Army and Milam's boss, said at the time of the attack on the Pentagon, Milam was briefing a special project to Lt. General Timothy Maude, who was also killed. "It is always difficult to deal with the loss of someone you selected for a position, especially when they are your personal military assistant," McLaurin said. "I take a personal comfort in knowing that Ron was a soldier's soldier doing exactly what he wanted to do when he died, but I do miss him and always will." Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis, a spokesman for the army, said the Department of Defense will host a Pentagon service at 2 p.m. today officiated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield. Milam's hometown misses him as well. On Friday, the gym at Muskogee High School, Milam's alma mater, will have a ceremony naming their gym in his honor.
MHS Principal Terry Saul said the gym will be the first building to be named after an individual on the campus. "This gym was built in 1968 when the campus was built, but it never had a name," he said. "He (Milam) spent a lot of time here and brought a lot of honor to that through his leadership. It seemed fitting for our kids to always walk in that gym and remember him." Effie Milam, Ronnie's mother, still teaches at the school, and Saul said she has been part of helping their community heal from the tragedy.
"Obviously in the community, it was devastating," he said. "Like everyone has said, it brought us closer together. His mother has had to live with that each and every day and I think her students have brightened her days along the way. It's well known that he was an alumni and he's someone we would look to as a role model, especially now."
Diddle said he never had any doubt that Milam would be a leader and role model. But there was a time when he and Milam disagreed about what form that leadership would take after college — Diddle thought Milam's charisma would make him an excellent lawyer, but Milam wanted to pursue a career in the military. "My last argument with him about it was at Tarleton State," he said. "He came to watch my team play and he sat on the bench. After the game, we went to dinner and I said, ‘Ronnie, I've pounded on you about wanting you to be a lawyer for a long time,' and Ronnie said, ‘I'm going to make a career out of this,' so I told him I was 100 percent behind him. I thought he could have been the next governor of Oklahoma."
Now Diddle said he takes a more passive approach to considering the future of his players. "I look in their eyes and I wonder where their life will take them," he said "Because you never know. When I went down to Muskogee to recruit Ronnie and the day I signed him, who would have thought he'd be a major in the army and have the life he had and that it would have ended the way it did?"
Diddle traveled to Muskogee again to speak at the dedication of the gym. He said he takes every opportunity to tell Ronnie's story. It is his way of dealing with the pain of losing his player and his friend.
"There is no closure here," he said. "There is no ‘it's getting better.' You just learn to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. But all my guys come in my office and see the poster and say ‘Who's that guy?' And I say ‘Well, sit down and I'll tell you.' I think of Ron every day."
ENMU grad killed in Sept. 11 terrorist attack at Pentagon.