OKMULGEE, Okla. - The last remaining American Indian survivor of the "Bataan Death March" passed away on Monday, June 23.
Philip Coon, a tribal citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was 95. Coon was born May 28, 1919 and died on Monday, June 23rd at 9:36 p.m. at St. Johns Hospital in Tulsa.
Coon joined the U.S. Army during WWII in September 1941 and served in the 31st Infantry, 2nd Battalion, H Company as a machine gunner. Coon was stationed in the Philippines and was captured in April 1942 in the "Battle of Bataan." He, along with several thousand other American and Filipino POWs, were forced to march more than 60 miles that resulted in the death of many. He suffered the most deplorable conditions in POW Camps O'Donnell, Cabanuan and the Japanese "Hell Ships."
Coon survived and labored in coalmines in mainland Japan until the end of the war. Before release he was further forced to work death burial detail for his fellow soldiers. He was held captive for a total of three and a half years before being liberated in 1945 following the detonation of the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki. Coon was discharged in October 1946 with the rank of Corporal E4. He created the cross at POW Camp O'Donnell that is now located at the National POW Museum in Andersonville, GA.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger reflected on Coon.
"This Nation has lost a hero. Someone that was very well respected, not only in the Creek Nation, but the entire country," said Principal Chief George Tiger. "I'm amazed that whenever he and I were able to go somewhere together, the tremendous respect that people had for him. I remember the State Legislature honoring him a couple of years ago, and he asked me to speak on his behalf, just people knowing that he stood for defending freedom as we see it today. Going through the ordeal on the Bataan Death March, he was a pillar of strength for all of us.
Funeral services are set for Friday, June 27 at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in Okmulgee, Okla.
Following the services, Coon's procession will include members of the "Patriot Guard," "Rolling Thunder" and "The Ride Home," all nationally prominent Veteran escort groups. Interment will be at the Ft. Gibson National Cemetery with full military honors provided by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Honor Guard.
Tiger invites any other governmental entity to fly their flags at half-staff in honor of Coon for 10 days.