BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) – Sydney L. Cole, whose acts of war read like a “Hollywood script,” died Friday at the age of 107.
Cole, a former prisoner of war and Purple Heart recipient, was born in New York City on September 1, 1914.
His father’s work restoring older homes eventually brought the family to western New York, where Cole attended Buffalo Public School # 32 and high school in Fosdick-Masten Park, now known as City Honors.
Cole served as captain of the swimming team and led the team to become champions from 1932 to 1933.
When World War II broke out in Europe, Cole sought to join the Allied forces, but his application was initially rejected. Instead, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force before the United States entered the war.
He later applied for and received a discharge from service in Canada and enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Cole flew an artillery observation aircraft to 776th Field Artillery Battalion and was involved in the Battle of the Rhineland and the Ardennes Campaign, known as the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last major offensive against the Western Front.
“You wanted to sleep three hours. Fly three hours, 24 hours a day. And we wiped them out. Battle of the Bulge. And I was in it, right in the middle of it,” Cole said in an interview in August 1989 with the Holocaust Resource Center. of Buffalo.
On January 2, 1945, his plane was shot down by anti-aircraft guns over Belgium. His previous experience as a glider pilot helped him stabilize the aircraft until he and his co-pilot could leave the aircraft.
Cole remembers his co-pilot who struggled after getting stuck in radio wires.
“And he leaned out. He couldn’t shake at all. I took my foot and pushed him out. I saw his parachute open,” Cole said. “In the three or four minutes that happened between the time he came out and until I rescued him, he landed on the American side. I landed on the enemy’s side.”
As Cole parachuted behind enemy lines, he was wounded, hit in the arm and leg by gunfire.
“And I was hit when I came down, I could see the bullet holes going through the parachute,” he said.
When he was first on the ground, Cole remembered that he was bleeding profusely. He quickly thought about wrapping himself in the parachute before losing consciousness, but not before remembering his dog marks.
“Before he faints, he takes his dog tags, which have an ‘H’ on them for Hebrew, threw them as far as he could, and then fainted,” said his son Richard Cole of Buffalo. “He knew the enemy was not happy with the Jewish people.”
“When the Germans found him, they had seen that dog tag, they would have shot him on the spot.”
Captured by the enemy
Sydney Cole was captured by the enemy. He would be moved around to different places until he ended up on German Stalag IVF.
He was one of three officers in the prison camp.
During an interrogation, Cole told his guards that he was a Protestant.
He remembered Jewish prisoners being taken out on work details.
“Have never seen them come back. Whether they were killed, whether they were transferred to another Stalag, I do not know. I suppose they were dead. They were executed,” Cole said.
He said conditions in the prison camp were “terrible”.
There was neither hot water nor medicine.
And the food, he remembered, was scarce.
He said the prisoners were fed maybe two meals a day that consisted of potato soup and grass.
During his imprisonment, his weight dropped from 145 to 95 pounds.
As a ranking officer, Cole was assigned to lead some of the prisoners in the camp. Despite his ill-treated wounds and dramatic weight loss, he knew it was important to keep their morale up and give hope rather than despair.
A quote for Cole’s Prisoner of War Medal says the following:
Cpt. Cole was instrumental in maintaining high levels of discipline and morale among the recruited men and served as an inspiration and example of American military conduct while in enemy custody. Cpt. Cole’s heroism at the risk of his own life, his dedication to the principles of liberty, and his exemplary devotion to his duty as a U.S. fighter are consistent with the highest traditions of the U.S. military and reflect great honor for him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
In the spring of 1945, the camp was liberated by the Russians. Cole and the other recruited men received proper medical treatment and food. Later there was a prisoner exchange. Cole was a free man again.
But nothing would prepare him for what he would face next – further evidence of the Holocaust.
He recalled encountering an Auschwitz satellite left by the Germans. Cole saw mass-open graves of Jewish victims and other fragile and weak, including a woman who died in his arms.
“Emotionally, I was just gone to see something like that. And when they knew they were all Jews. I could not believe what I saw,” Cole said during the 1989 interview.
“Being a prisoner of war myself did not affect me as much as going into these concentration camps. That was what really got me started. I could not take it. I could not believe this was happening.”
Life back in Buffalo
Captain Sydney Cole was discharged from the Army on 27 December 1945.
He returned to Buffalo.
He married the love of his life, Sybil Richard.
They had a child, Richard.
Cole was determined to move on in civilian life after the war.
He ran successful businesses, including Cole Motors on Main Street in Buffalo. He was also big on health and served as the manager of the Buffalo Athletic Club.
But sometimes the ugliness of the war and the atrocities he saw would give him nightmares.
“One morning he called me to get over and said ‘Rich, you have to get over. I’m not feeling well.’ I went upstairs to his bedroom. He had a black lip. His tongue was black. He had been beaten. through the night. overturned his bedside table. overturned the lamp, “his son recalled during an interview with News 4.
Purple Heart and other medals
Over the years, Captain Cole has been recognized for his distinguished military service, including a ceremony in March 2017 where he was presented with his medals by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who played an important role in securing the medals.
“His story, his biography, it read like a Hollywood script,” Higgins said in an interview with News 4. “I mean, he was Captain Sydney Cole, handsome, charismatic. He was like an action hero.”
“And the circumstances under which he received both a purple heart and a bronze star and a prisoner of war medal were just extraordinary. Right out of a film script,” Higgins said.
“It’s a great American story.”
And his old Buffalo high school, now City Honors, awarded him his high school diploma at a special ceremony.
He was also inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.
In late September, Sydney Cole celebrated his 107th birthday at Batavia VA Medical Center, where he had most recently resided.
Family, friends and those who were inspired by his remarkable story turned out to wish him good luck.
“It’s a great American story. It’s a great story if you’re of Jewish heritage and how he was able to survive. And some of the things he witnessed,” sad Terry McGuire, public relations officer for VA Western NY Healthcare System.
“Without a doubt a national treasure.”
Bravery and sacrifice are synonymous with Captain Sydney Cole, who was determined to make a difference on the battlefield and in post-war life.
“They fought a terrible war, but it was the greatest military victory in human history,” Higgins said. “But they were very, very humble about it. And I think that speaks to that generation.”
Medals presented to Captain Sydney Cole from the United States
- American Defense Service Medal,
- American campaign medal,
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 service stars in bronze,
- World War II Victory Medal,
- Honorable service lapel button WWII,
- air medal,
- Purple Heart Medal – for injuries sustained in action while serving in World War II,
- Bronze Star Medal – awarded to members of the military who excel in heroic service while engaged in action against an armed enemy. It is one of the highest awards given to the military for merit actions,
- POW Medal – awarded to members of the US Armed Forces captured during armed conflict.