WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s been 20 years since American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 — three Oklahoma service members died during the attack. For their families, the day is still fresh in their minds.
Electronics Technician Brian Moss, of Sperry; Maj. Ronald Milam, of Muskogee; and Specialist Chin Sun Pak Wells, of Lawton, were among the 189 victims who died at the Pentagon on 9/11. Sixty-four were onboard flight 77.
Sept. 11 started like any other morning at the Mosses’ house at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. Mary Lou Moss had said “goodbye, I love you” to her husband before dropping off their children at school and heading to work.
Her husband, who grew up in Sperry, was heading to his job in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.
“I got to my job, and we had a big screen in our office. We were watching everything unfold in New York, and we suddenly heard there was an explosion at the Pentagon,” said Mary Lou Moss. “Before that, I had checked my voicemail at work, and my husband had left me a voicemail saying, ‘Hey, did you get a chance to run by the house and get the phone of the rental house to call them?’ and that was the last thing I heard from him.”
For Connor Moss, their son, 9/11 is almost a blur. But he remembers he was 5 years old and in kindergarten at the Christian Center Ministries in Alexandria, Va., when his mom picked him and his sister up from school.
He remembers being excited to leave school early, but she took him to the Pentagon, and he remembers seeing a smoldering portion of the building surrounded by a construction fence.
“I remember seeing part of the plane sticking out of the building and being able to see what had transpired, but not quite understanding it. I was standing there wondering, ‘Why are we here? What’s going on? I don’t understand any of this,’” Connor Moss said.
Mary Lou Moss knew her husband was among the victims when he didn’t hear from him. She put her children back in school the next day and went to work.
Brian Moss’s body was identified two weeks after 9/11. On Oct. 18, 10 days before his 35th birthday, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with the other Pentagon victims.
“I didn’t have his parents come out only because the military is like a huge family, so I didn’t need his family to be around because the military was there for me. So as far as support, I didn’t need them,” Mary Lou Moss said.
However, they relocated to Texas in 2004 to be closer to her husband’s family.
Connor Moss said as he got older he started to reflect on the fact that he was growing up without a father, but wouldn’t have wanted anybody else to replace him.
“I look at him with such high regard even if I only knew him for a short period, so there’s no one else that could ever have replaced that role in my life. And there’s no one I’ve ever really opened up to as a father figure,” Connor said.
He wears his dad’s wedding ring on a necklace every day and only takes it off when he feels uncomfortable, but when he does, “it feels like a part of me is missing.”
Mary Lou hasn’t remarried, but she’s proud to have raised two children who are professionals and live on their own. She now works in health care in Texas.
“Things don’t get easier, you just learn how to deal with them better. I have a friend that lost her husband to COVID recently, and I told her, the first of everything without your loved one always sucks,” Mary Lou said.
The Mosses will visit their father at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday for a service. The last time they visited was for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
In Tulsa, Stephanie Milam was doing a nursing rotation at St. John Medical Center the morning of 9/11. Her brother, from Muskogee, had gone to work with his wife, Capt. Jacqueline Milam, at the Pentagon.
They had a 15-month-old daughter, and Jacqueline was five months pregnant with their son. She survived the attack because she was working at the Air Force section of the building.
“The radio was on at the hospital, and I heard the twin towers had been hit. I remember saying, ‘Oh my goodness, that is so terrible,’ but I went about my day,” Stephanie said.
“Later, I heard the Pentagon had been hit, and I just froze. I ran to my supervisor, and I said to her, ‘Hey, I have a brother who works at the Pentagon, and I’ve got to go,’ And she excused me, and I drove 100 miles home to Muskogee” to be with her parents.
Stephanie said her brother, Steve, who lived in Philadelphia at the time, called her to say he was on his way to D.C. to see Ronald Milam after the attack. She said when Steve arrived at the Pentagon Metro station, Ronald’s Jeep was the only car parked there.
She said she would talk to her brother Ronald every Sunday to plan the week ahead of them, and the Sunday before 9/11 was the last time she spoke with him.
His body was identified a week after the attack, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His family had a memorial service in Muskogee that was attended by about 800 people the week after his burial.
“I just miss being around him and his bubbly personality, the fun times we had as brother and sister. We had a big family reunion in June of 2001, and he had so much fun with the kids and brought them water guns, and that was our last family reunion,” Stephanie Milam said.
Stephanie, who became pregnant at 17, said her brother, who was in Germany at the time, had offered his support when she expressed how scared she was.
“He called me and said, ‘I know this is difficult, you’re young but you can still pursue whatever you want to do in life.’ He was always so encouraging and lifting,” Milam said.
Although Stephanie hasn’t gone back to visit her brother’s grave in Arlington, she has visited the military facilities named after him in El Paso, Texas, and Fort Sill.
“If I could talk to Ron, I would tell him the loss of him has shattered my heart in a million pieces. I wouldn’t have ever imagined losing him so soon,” she said.
Specialist Chin Sun Pak Wells, from Lawton, was 25 when she died on 9/11 at the Pentagon. She worked for the Army’s deputy chief of staff. Wells, whose family did not respond for comments, enlisted in the Army in 1997 and was deployed to Korea.
Gaylord News is a Washington-based reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.