Reminders & Reflections: Families Remember Oklahomans Killed In September 11, 2001 Attacks

Wednesday, September 8th 2021, 10:17 pm
By: News On 6


For the families of those killed 20 years ago in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field in southern Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, reminders of their loved ones are all around them.

For Hugh and Cindy Rice, some reminders are just too much.

"To this day, I do not play music,” Cindy said. “I cannot do it. It just makes me too sad."

"I tell our grandchildren they have the only grandmother in Oklahoma City who listens to the Sports Animal,” said Hugh.

Their son, David, loved music, especially the sounds of Africa, where he studied on a Fullbright scholarship.

David was on the 104th floor of the South World Trade Center Tower on September 11th, 2001, training to lead an investment company. He called his parents that morning after a plane hit the North Tower.

"He said, 'there's pandemonium, they won't let us out,’” Hugh remembers.

"He said, 'it's beyond my control,'" Cindy recalled.

Days after the attacks, another phone call would change the Rice's lives forever. This time, it was a New York City Police detective on the line.

"When he called, I said, 'I think I know what you're calling for and before you start, I want to thank you for the policemen and firemen who came to Oklahoma City to help us out when we had the bombing of the Murrah Building,'” Hugh said. “He said, 'Thank you, my best buddy was out there to help you all, and we haven't found him yet.' And that's when this police officer told us that they had discovered David's body.”

David's body was one of the first identified in the days after the tragedy.

Effie Milam would have to wait a few more days until she found out what happened to her son, Major Ronald Milam, who was working inside the Pentagon.

"I still believed that he was alive because they didn't find him for a week and I just felt that he was out helping people get out," said Effie, who was teaching in her Muskogee High School classroom when she heard about the attacks.

"I was teaching school and I was writing on the board and one of the teachers came in and told me to turn my TV on and I told her I couldn't,” Effie remembers. “I said, 'I'm teaching; I can't turn on the TV.' And she said, 'Your son is in the Pentagon.'” And so, I did turn the TV on, and a plane hit the Pentagon and so that kind of just really shocked me."

Effie’s son Ron was a proud Muskogee Rougher, a standout student and athlete in high school.

Ron was the kind of teenager who would give away his gym shoes to help another student make the basketball team.

"He always said, 'All I want is my $165 tennis shoes' and so I'd bought him a pair and then he didn't have them," Effie recalls. "He was always about doing something for somebody."

Steve Milam doesn't have to look far for reminders of his brother.

"Watching sports sometimes, you know he loved basketball,” said Steve. "Just being around my mom of course, she talks about him a lot."

For these families, the most vivid reminders aren't in the buildings named in honor of their loved ones, or in the letters of support from leaders, or even in the pictures that line the walls of their homes. The best reminders are in the faces of those who are living.

"He looks like David, and he's probably going to act like David,” Cindy said of her youngest grandson, Wyatt.

“Like a clone of him,” marvels Steve, as he talks about Ron’s son, Ronald Milam, Jr., born just months after the attacks. “Looking at him is sometimes, is kind of scary. It's strange, you know? It's kind of a bittersweet feeling. I look at him and I see Ron."

"I was telling Ron Jr. you're a lot alike, you're so laidback" Effie said.

These days, being reminded doesn't hurt the way it used to.

"The healing starts taking place and when I look at his pictures now, I think about the fun things that we did,” Effie said.

"Where there was the loss, there was a gift," Hugh said.

"I just always have felt like we were lucky that we lived where we did," said Cindy.

Both families say their faith is a connection to the loved ones killed 20 years ago.

He really took his religion seriously and I think that said a lot about him,” Cindy said of David. “He was very generous and caring."

"He got really strong in his faith, so I noticed such a change in him.” said Steve. “So, that inspires me."

"When I look at his picture I think about, 'you were so funny,' Effie said.

While these families have learned to cope with the loss, the memories serve as a lasting reminder of those who are gone and of the goodness in people.

"American people are really good at heart,” said Cindy. “Especially in Oklahoma and New York. I think when you have a tragedy like the Murrah Building or 9/11, you find that out."