BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — Honoring his son while raising awareness about the "War at Home." That's Michael Dennis Coon's mission.
Coon's son, SSG Michael Keith Coon, was a third-generation army soldier from a family of Muscogee warriors. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Cpl Phillip Coon, a WWII veteran who survived the Bataan Death March and was a POW for over three years. And his father, Micahel D. Coon, who served in Vietnam as an airborne paratrooper.
“We were so proud of him when he joined the military," Coon said. "And then of all the medals and everything he accomplished and everything.”
The younger Michael, who was half-Muscogee and half-Cherokee, took his turn and served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, like many soldiers in the war, he began developing PTSD.
Especially after losing half of those he graduated with from infantry school.
“When you go in, you’re never the same when you come back out," Coon said. "And there’s no way that you can go back.”
Michael sought help from his grandfather, but things got worse when he lost three grandparents in 2013 and 2014. Then, his mother passed away in 2015 while he was overseas. All of this after he lost his sister to suicide in 1992.
“He would hardly sleep," Coon said. "He would sleep maybe two or three hours. Then he’d be up grabbing a beer or something, drinking again just to try to go back to sleep and get rid of those memories that he had.”
Sadly, shortly after his mother’s death, Michael took his own life in Sept. 2015. Losing what’s called the "War at Home," veterans battling PTSD.
“Nobody wants to bury their children," said Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, board president at the Military History Center. "And this has been, throughout the history of the wars, we’ve had these kinds of suicides. But in the last few conflicts, since Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve come to the forefront.”
Now, Coon is honoring his son with a silhouette memorial at the Military History Center in Broken Arrow.
The city is planning to honor others like Michael, who have lost their War at Home, with a memorial at Veterans Park. It’s partnering with Mission 22, an organization dedicated to helping veterans suffering from PTSD, to bring in 20 monuments representing the 20 soldiers that lose their battle to PTSD every day.
“If you think about it, we do a really great job of training and sending our guys and gals off to fight for us, but we don’t do a very good job of when they come home, reincorporating them into society," said Broken Arrow Mayor Debra Wimpee.
The city, museum and Mission 22 are holding a ceremony in honor of Michael on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Military History Center. It will feature several tribal honor guards as well as other military heroes.
Remembering another life gone too soon.
“I was just thinking about how he was a little boy, mischief, getting in trouble, stuff like that," Coon said. "And then when I hear those stories that, from a little boy he grew into a man, a man that was well-respected.”
If you're a soldier struggling, or you know a soldier struggling, from PTSD you can learn more about Misson 22 here.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, Mission 22 said to call this number 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), text 838255, or call 911.
You can learn more about the Military History Center here.
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