Ex-ENMU coach still bears pain of player’s death

Courtesy photo Ron Milam joined the Army after graduating from ENMU, where he played basketball.

Kevin Wilson

When Earl Diddle saw the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, his first thought was of his daughter Colby. She was doing a fashion shoot in Manhattan when two planes hit the World Trade Center nearby.

“They didn’t realize what happened until the second plane hit,” said Diddle, women’s basketball coach at Howard College and former men’s basketball coach at Eastern New Mexico University.

Diddle’s second thought Sunday night was about Maj. Ron Milam.

This Sept. 11 will mark 10 years since Milam, a 1991 graduate of ENMU and guard for the Greyhound hoops team, was killed when American Airlines Flight 77, bound for California, was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. Milam was at the Pentagon, serving in the office of the assistant secretary of the Army.

The Muskogee, Okla., native was born to a pair of teachers that Diddle called “pillars of the community,” and graduated from Muskogee High in 1986 before playing for Diddle at Oklahoma Panhandle State.

When Diddle took the job at ENMU, Milam went with him, and the two were close during their basketball years and the decade that followed.

A picture of Milam hangs in Diddle’s office, and he had actually told a friend all about Milam earlier on Sunday. Amid all of the talk about closure for Sept. 11 with bin Laden’s death, Diddle doesn’t believe that.

He remembers the world of Muskogee and the pain when he spoke at Milam’s funeral services, a pain he still feels.

“I think there are incidents in your life where there is no closure; it’s not going to be OK,” Diddle said. “I think Ron Milam’s death, it’s never going to be OK. I don’t think I’ll ever put Ronnie to bed, so to speak. He was such an important part of my life and my family’s life.

“I think you learn to carry that burden, you learn to cope with it and you learn to take all of the good things that happen in our relationship. Just because bin Laden is dead now, does that make it any better? Not really.”

Diddle also remembers the world of the United Arab Emirates, where he was a coach for its Olympic basketball team and nearly got fired for refusing to go to a company picnic at Bin Laden Beach. He said he met many fine people during his time there, but he expects fallout from bin Laden’s death because there is hatred and fanaticism that will, “never, ever go away.”

Milam left behind a daughter, Myejoi, and his wife Jacqueline, who was five months pregnant on Sept. 11; she named their son Ron Jr.

Attempts to contact Milam’s relatives were unsuccessful.

Diddle said Milam was always committed, and would succeed in whatever he chose.

“He and I always argued,” Diddle said. “I always thought he should have gone to law school and went back (to become) the governor of Oklahoma.”

Milam’s life has been honored in many ways. In Muskogee, the MHS gym is named in his honor and a scholarship is given in his name every year and at ENMU, donations in Milam’s name resulted in a scholarship worth about $1,500.

“He loved the university. Loved his experience there,” Diddle said. “He was a great Greyhound, a great person. I miss him dearly, and I miss him every day.”