I cannot recall most of the day before it happened or much about the days leading up to the accident. My husband, Lt. Bret Travis Miller USN, was supposed to land from a routine training flight at 3:30 on October 28th, 2009. He usually turned his phone on after he landed, so about 3:45 I started to call him. I figured he would be home by 5:00 and I wanted to start dinner. I had gone to the grocery store and bought fish and chicken and I wanted to know which one he was going to want for dinner. I kept calling his phone back every 15 minutes or so and straight to voice-mail. “Well, maybe he took off late; I’ll just start the chicken.” My grandmother was in town and was watching something on the TV and a segment for the 5:00 news came on and I heard something about a plane making an emergency landing. I went to the TV and rewound it and saw it was a private plane and no one was hurt. The probably would have more about it online, so I pulled up our local news website and there is the bright red box, “Breaking News: Coast Guard reports a T-34 is missing over the Gulf of Mexico.” My hands started to shake, it couldn’t possibly be Bret. I called my best friend, whose husband was also in Bret’s squadron, and she hadn’t heard anything, but her husband was at work and she would call him and see if he had heard anything. She called back a few seconds later and said that he didn’t answer his phone. What to do next, call someone else? Should I call the squadron, it had been almost an hour by now since he was supposed to land, but I didn’t want to be the crazy wife calling the squadron to check on her husband. After about 10 minutes of contemplation, I called and the sweetest lady answered. “Hi, this is Lt. Miller’s wife; may I speak with the ODO?” “Yes ma’am, just a moment please.” She came back on the phone about 30 seconds later and said it would be just a minute or two. When the line picked back up the man on the other end identified himself as Bret’s executive officer, I fell to my knees and yelled that I didn’t want to talk to him. He informed me that they had lost radar contact with his plane about 3:20 and had no other information at this time, besides they had a lot of planes out looking along with the Cost Guard and a representative from the squadron is on his way over. I hung up the phone and just stood there, what was I supposed to do next? I just stood there and stood there when our 2 ½ year old son came into the room, that is when I realized I needed to focus on the best possible outcomes and not the worse. He can bail out of the plane, they wear a parachute, the water in the gulf is warm, and the plane has a tracking device. I called back my best friend from Bret’s squadron and told her that it was Bret’s plane; the rest of the conversation is a blank in my mind as is what happened up until the time when the representative from the squadron came with my best friend. He explained that again they had no information and asked if I had any questions, but all I could think is “What questions am I supposed to have?” I don’t remember who told me or when I was told, but Bret’s plane locator was not working. Everyone that could was out looking and searching a big area, but had no idea where the plane could be, all they had to go on was where they lost radar contact. Again, I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. A couple of friends from the squadron were at the house with me waiting on word. As the hours past, my heart began to sink with thoughts of what this could really mean. Early the next morning the call came in that representatives from the squadron were on their way to make an official missing person notification. They showed up just like something out of a movie. They walked in my house in full uniform and removed their covers and asked me to sit down. They went through the official notification and that they still had no new information. I began at this time to start to lose the facade I was putting on, that I was handling this ok. I locked myself in the bathroom and let it all go. That is when the Braxton hick’s contractions started. Yes, I was almost five months pregnant at the time. We had just found out two days prior that we were having another boy. How could all of this really be happening, that thought crossed my mind every few minutes. The rest of the day passed with making plans for his parents and my mom to arrive the following day and no new information about Bret, his co-pilot, or the plane. It is now Friday October 30th, the arrival of his parents and my mom are a complete blur and is most of the day. I can just remember how hard it was when family started to arrive. We had been told that we would be briefed by the Coast Guard at 3:30 on base. Bret’s CO had been out of town when this all happened and had got back into town on Thursday and was going to pick us up and take us over to base for the briefing. Sometime close to when we were supposed to leave someone had called and told us that the briefing had been cancelled, but they were going to have a candle light vigil for Bret and his co-pilot at the chapel on base and the CO was still going to take us. I heard the door bell ring and was in my room and grabbed my purse and coat and walked out and saw my worst nightmare standing in front of me. There stood Bret’s CO and the squadron CACO in full uniform. They asked me to sit down and you can imagine what happened after that. They told me that the Coast Guard received a call from a floating oil rig that had spotted something in the water. They explained that they identified him by his name tag on his flight suit and it was Bret. My world fell apart, but at the same time it did not seem real. The thoughts that went through my mind were all over the place and there were hundreds of them. Once I settled down and began to clear my mind, I realized that in this situation I should be thankful that Bret was found. There still was no sign of Bret’s co-pilot or the plane. The plane, with his co-pilot still inside, was found three weeks later.
The next day we began preparing for a memorial on base and a funeral back home in Wisconsin. The amount of decisions that had to be made and how fast they had to be made was something I was unprepared for, not that anyone ever is. They honored Bret in a beautiful memorial on base the following Friday. He was then escorted by two of his best friends home to Wisconsin. The amount of respect shown to him was remarkable. The allowed us onto the tarmac once the plane had landed, so we could be there when he was moved from the plane to the hearse to be taken to the funeral home. Bret was laid to rest on November 14th, 2009 with a lot of friends and family surrounding him and the flags of both the United States and the State flag of Wisconsin flown at half staff all over that State of Wisconsin by executive order of the Governor, an honor that still takes my breath away today.
I am sitting here writing my story only three months later in fear that I will start to forget details of those couple days. It will be at least two years before the accident report will be available. One of the hardest things to deal with is what really happened to them. Why was Bret out of the plane and his co-pilot still inside, why wasn’t there locator working, what were those last seconds like and did he have enough time to realize what was happening? After having our first son I had many thoughts about what if anything ever happened to me, what would his life be like? My heart aches for those thoughts that Bret must have had about our sons, one of which he never got to meet. I hope over time I am able to break down the wall I have built when it comes to dealing with the emotions over loosing my husband. My grief is now filled with the fact my children have lost their father and Bret has lost the opportunity to watch them grow. Our second son is due to arrive the first week in March. I have decided to name him Travis Bret Miller, to honor my husband’s memory. I know Travis coming into this world with fill my heart with love and joy, but I also worry that it may also bring me back down to a dark place I have been trying to avoid. Being pregnant has forced me to stay strong and keep my stress level down for the health of our baby.
Despite the tragedy that surrounds me I am uplifted by the out pouring of support from family, friends, and the Navy. Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. It is nice that there is a place we can share our thoughts and stories with other people who are able to relate. I miss him everyday and thanks for sharing your stories as well, they give me hope.
Categories: The 1st Year