Vet receives long-delayed medals, promotes reconciliation with Japan
TULSA — Given the choice, World War II veteran Phillip Coon probably wouldn't want the formality and fuss of being honored on a military base with men and women standing at attention, dressed in full regalia — even if it was with a fistful of long-overdue medals he waited decades to receive.
So it's fitting that the awards were presented to the humble Tulsa-area man on Monday evening in an informal ceremony at the Tulsa International Airport, with family and fellow veterans in attendance and little pomp and circumstance.
The 94-year-old survivor of a POW labor camp and the Bataan Death March received the Prisoner of War Medal, Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman Badge when he and his son, Michael, returned from a trip to Japan to promote understanding and healing with the United States.
A couple of dozen people applauded wildly when the medals were presented to Coon, who was seated in a wheelchair. He lifted his ball cap in recognition, exposing a shock of silver hair.
“I've been blessed to come this far in life,” he said. “I thank the Lord for watching over me.”
Japan's Foreign Ministry said Coon visited the site of the former POW camp in Kosaka next to a now-defunct copper mine where he was put to forced labor. The veteran met the mayor and other officials in Kosaka, in Japan's northern prefecture of Akita.
Coon, who lives in Sapulpa, Okla., served as an infantry machine gunner in the Army. He is a survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942, when the Japanese military forced tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers to trek for 65 miles with little food or water in blazing heat. As many as 11,000 died on the way.
It's unclear why Coon didn't get his medals sooner, but such occurrences with awards are not uncommon in the military.
“It continues to trouble me that there are instances where service members do not receive the service medals they have earned through the course of their careers,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, whose office contacted the military three weeks ago about the missing medals.