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Alumni Profile

In service and in leadership

Ryan Yantis

After assisting the injured at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, former Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis, BA ’83, organized media interviews in the aftermath. Photo courtesy of Ryan Yantis.

At Mizzou, Ryan Yantis, BA ’83, majored in history. On Sept. 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C., he was part of it.

“When I got outside, the entire face of the Pentagon was on fire, and there were people running to and from the building,” says Yantis, then a lieutenant colonel assigned to the U.S. Army staff inside the Department of Defense's famed headquarters. “We met at a rally point to account for people. Some were missing, so I ran to another rally point.”

The soldier spent the next several harrowing hours assisting and hauling the injured on stretchers from the burning complex to the makeshift medical area. Meanwhile, word was circulating that another plane was inbound — the plane that ultimately crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Yantis was decorated for his actions that day, but his work continued. He led a group of media officers in facilitating hundreds of interviews with 9/11 survivors leading up to the one-year anniversary. The inevitable rush of media coverage demanded that someone coordinate interviews, prepare reporters, and counsel and advocate for interviewees.

“We knew we were going to get certain questions one month after 9/11, followed by the empty-plate questions at Thanksgiving,” Yantis says. “There was a lot of goodness that happened on a day that was very dark; a lot of providence, a lot of compassion.”

Yantis was a four-time high school All-American in swimming, and he might have competed in the Olympics had the U.S. not boycotted the Moscow games in 1980.

He has served in more than 30 countries, led a cavalry troop in South Korea and earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. The former executive director of the Korean War National Museum in Illinois, Yantis received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the MU College of Arts and Science in 2011.

“When I arrived at Mizzou, I thought it was silly that I was required to take a physical education course even though I swam three hours a day,” Yantis says. “Then someone said I could take ROTC. ROTC offered orienteering, which I enjoyed from my time as an Eagle Scout.”

The rest is history. — Marcus Wilkins