Broken Arrow, Oklahoma – Mission 22 has created a memorial to raise awareness of Veteran suicide that is currently in Norfolk, VA. It’s set to be placed permanently in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2019. But the story of their spokesperson, Michael Coon, reveals the heartache of those who have lost sons and daughters to suicide…and it’s also a message of hope.
A Journey of Three Fathers
Michael Coon’s father, US Army Cpl Phillip W. Coon, was a highly decorated WWII veteran, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. He served with the 31st Infantry when the Japanese attacked the US base in the Philippines. Cpl Coon was a Prisoner of War for 3 1/2 years. He was a Native American, part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The Japanese honored him 70 years later after learning that Cpl Coon was a Native American, a warrior who had survived his very own “Trail of Tears.” They honored him during the Japanese-American POW Friendship Program.
When asked about his visit to Japan, he simply said, “It’s still there. This time I got a lot more to eat than I did the first time.”
His experiences with the Bataan Death March are chronicled in “A Soldier’s Silent Prayer” on Amazon.
Cpl Coon’s son took his father to as many veteran events as possible during his waning years “so that he would be honored and remembered.”
His son told us that his family “had big shoes to fill,” and that his father was the reason Michael Coon himself enlisted in the Army from Feb 26, 1971 to Dec 14, 1973. He was an Airborne paratrooper with the 18th Airborne Corps. But while at first his orders had the designation “RVN” (Republic of Vietnam) on them, by the time he got back from leave, the Army had changed the orders. SP4 Michael Coon spent his entire service as G2 Security on post at Fort Bragg. He told us that he always felt “not right” about not being in combat.
But Providence has a way of protecting a purpose for later.
SSgt Michael K. Coon
Michael’s son, Staff Sergeant Michael Keith Coon served for 10 years in the US Army. At the dinner table one day, he looked at his Grandfather’s combat badge and remarked that he wanted one just like it. His Grandfather became his mentor, teaching him how to focus on the battle at hand. After deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he received his own combat badge. But toward the end of his military career, a series of events piled up in his life.
His grandmother passed in 2013, his Grandfather passed in 2014, his mother in 2015.
Some of the members of his unit were lost in combat – battle buddies who graduated with him in boot camp. Then there was a deployment to the Persian Gulf, one that his wife didn’t want him to take. After many arguments, and her opposition to his desire to “take care of his squad,” and an incident of infidelity, he filed for divorce. He was father to 3 boys ages 15, 10 and 8.
The devastation of losing family members, the loss of brothers in arms, the divorce, all of it took a massive toll. SSgt Michael Keith Coon took his own life on September 23, 2015.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. A parent should not have to bury their child.” Michael Coon
As Michael worked through his grief, Mission 22 contacted him and asked if they could use his son’s picture for one of the cutouts in their new memorial for Veteran Suicide Awareness. Not only did he say yes, he ended up as the steward and spokesman for the memorial because of his passion for veterans.
The Memorial has 20 – 1,000 pound steel cutouts with the names of each veteran represented. Each person has a story, each veteran is deserving of honor and respect. Each family has their own grief to bear – and the memorial brings that to light by reminding people of the sacrifices.
At first, Mission 22 had hoped to place the memorial in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But Michael quickly learned that their site wasn’t optimum and the memorial was too big to be placed there in a serene setting. At a Tulsa council meeting, he ran into a lady from the Broken Arrow City council, Debra Wimpee, who told him they’d take it.
The proposal was approved to place the Mission 22 memorial at the Broken Arrow Veteran’s Park. It will have a pond with a fountain during the day, and a rainbow of red/white/blue that will shine on the pond at night. It will begin with the Blue Star families, and ultimately end with them becoming Gold Star families. It will have a walking trail in front of each cutout and will be handicapped accessible. There will be fifteen benches for the families to sit and think at intervals of 10 feet. An Honor Guard will also come by at specific times.
For Michael Coon, this is a significant purpose, a higher calling. As a peer mentor, instructor, and steward of the memorial, he speaks with many families and service members. His compassion for their situation is real and deep. The memorial itself stands as an important reminder that even though someone has taken their own life, their stories, their hearts are worth preserving.