Coffee Bunker Founder Mary Ligon Inducted Into OK Military Hall of Fame

Contributing Writer

GTR Media Group photo
APPRECIATION FROM VETERANS: On the evening of Sept. 11, 2020, Coffee Bunker Founder Mary Ligon was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame by Major General Douglas Dollar, USA, Retired. Ligon founded the Coffee Bunker in memory of her veteran son, Daniel Ligon.

Somewhere, not too far from where you are now, is a man or a woman. They could be in their 20s or 30s, or even in their 60s or 70s. They are veterans of the U.S. military and served America with honor and bravery – perhaps having been directly involved in combat – perhaps the owner of a Purple Heart. They are hurting and they need help. For a number of veterans, after being honorably discharged, returning to civilian life somehow does not work out the way it is supposed to. They are no longer the persons they were before they left to fulfill the oath they took the day they became a soldier.
They want everything to work as it should, but it doesn’t, and they just cannot connect the dots even in family relations. In more extreme cases, there may be images and feelings that keep replaying in their mind over and over and over. There may be sounds and situations that trigger an uneasiness, or even outright fear. Their condition may limit their ability to be comfortable around other people. The workplace becomes a dystopian landscape and holding a job, the one thing that serves as the pathway to a normal life, becomes difficult if not impossible. The situation ranges from frustrating to emotionally debilitating. The human psyche can only handle so much stress and isolation. Eventually, as a way to escape what seems to be a never-ending loop of negative outcomes, suicide becomes an option; a method of escaping unbearable pain.
Marine Daniel Yusef Ligon was born in Tulsa in November of 1987. He deployed twice to Iraq, serving both deployments in and around Fallujah. As an Arabic speaker, he was often involved in rescue missions. During those deployments, the things he saw could never be unseen. His experiences weighed on him heavily. On June 10, 2007, Daniel’s life-juices finally, completely drained. His pain, exhaustion, and increased hopelessness, his depression, PTSD, isolation, and despair all took their toll. That Sunday evening, at the age of 24, one more Marine, one more precious son, brother, husband, and friend was lost to the silent wounds of war.
According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, there were on average 20 suicide deaths per day in 2014 and the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 each year from 2008 to 2017. Suicide involves dynamic and individual interactions. Unemployment and poverty are correlated with homelessness among veterans. In January 2017, it is estimated that 40,000 veterans were homeless and just over 15,300 were living on the street or unsheltered on any given night. Homelessness appears to play a role in suicide. Isolation has been shown to be a risk factor for suicide. Among VHA patients, suicide rates have been found to be highest among those who were divorced, widowed or never married and lowest among those who married. Suicide rates were elevated among individuals residing in rural areas.
The suicide rate for veterans ages 18-34 increased by 76 percent from 2005 to 2017. Veterans 55-74 accounted for 38 percent of all veteran deaths by suicide in 2017. The 2017 rate of suicide among women veterans was 16.8 per 100,000 compared with 39.1 per 100,000 male veterans.
Also, according to the 2019 National Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report, most veterans do not use Veterans Health Administration (VHA) services.
The majority of veteran suicides occur among those who have not recently received VHA services.
Enter the Coffee Bunker in Tulsa. After Daniel Ligon’s death, his mother, Mary Ligon, was understandably emotionally devastated.
According to Mary, “about a year and a half after Daniel’s death, I had been continuously reciting a little prayer. ‘Lord, if you don’t do something to redeem this, it’s a waste – just the biggest waste that could ever be… just a tragic waste.’ Then one day in the middle of doing housework, an idea came to mind; an informal, relaxed place where vets can come together, talk, and without an agenda, open up and let it flow. They would, in fact, support each other because they share many of the same experiences and have dealt with the same emotions. A therapeutic and reinforcing bond of trust would be established.”
Once the concept presented itself, Mary’s energy and focus intensified. “I started writing my thoughts down immediately after the idea came to me while they were still fresh. My pastor suggested that I talk to Mike Brose with the Mental Health Association. I told him about Daniel and my thoughts about creating a special environment for transitioning vets. He was excited. He took me to a Veterans Initiative meeting at the Community Service Council. At the meeting, I immediately started making connections. Once the word was out, people wanted to support the concept on an individual basis and a network of volunteers began to form. Southern Hills Baptist Church let us use their youth facility and we were able to invite veterans in to see what we were all about. The church provided our first exposure as the Coffee Bunker before we were able to move into our present facility.”
When did Mary feel like her vision was going to become a reality? “There was no clear point. I just knew it would be. The question was always how. I also knew, in order to have a place for Veterans, there would be a need for the right training. I knew training would be a necessity. I also know that God takes problems and turns them into successes.
When we opened on 41st Street at Sheridan, attendance exploded.” Veteran participation became strong. When the Coffee Bunker started assisting increasing numbers of veterans, Mary said, “I felt grateful, privileged, honored and more motivated. It felt like a new level of momentum launching us on to the next stage. Having our own place was a key.”
When veterans learned about Daniel’s story, they saw what Coffee Bunker was and what it offered. It became proof that something good can come out of something bad and veterans realized they could do the same with their lives. What kind of feedback does the Coffee Bunker receive from Veterans? “So nice to go to a place where I know I’m understood.” “A place that helps me break my isolation.” Many have said, “This place saved my life. I was on my last night.” “I came to the Coffee Bunker and got food and then a job.” “Being at the Coffee Bunker is like walking out of the dark into the light.” “At the Coffee Bunker, you can make friends, plug into jobs and education.”
Many describe being “renewed” at Coffee Bunker. Non-vets have built bridges with vets who are in the process of transitioning which often leads to employment opportunities.
Interestingly, volunteers at Coffee Bunker say they have learned from vets, taking inspiration from brave men and women who have faced so many obstacles.”
People who learn about the Coffee Bunker and express interest simply say, “What can I do to help.” Various groups who want to support the effort create fund raisers. Even the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have conducted fund raisers and have performed volunteer work.”
When asked what Mary ultimately hopes to see for Coffee Bunker in the future, she says, “Expansion. As long as I hear about veteran suicide, my work is not done. I just want places where veterans can always go for assistance. We have a good network with other aid agencies, and we all help each other. I want to see the vision mature. I would like to see more volunteers. I want to expand within the state. Lastly, we could use a bigger building.”

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