World War II veteran Cole dies

Sydney Cole

BATAVIA — Sydney Cole’s story was harrowing and immediate.

He was flying reconnaissance for the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, when was shot down over Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.

He wrapped himself in his parachute to survive the bone-chilling weather and his wounds, before being found by German soldiers. Not realizing Cole was Jewish — he had the foresight to toss away his dog tags — they placed him on the back of a tank, and he was transported into captivity as a prisoner of war.

Cole, 107, has died, Veterans Administration officials confirmed Monday. He was a resident of Spruce Lodge at the Batavia VA Medical Center, and was one of the nation’s oldest surviving World War II veterans.

“Sydney had a warm smile and cheerful heart for his army of special friends and son Richard,” the officials said in a news release. “Among VA medical staff, friends and family, first-hand accounts of the Greatest Generation were willingly told.” “It has been an honor and a pleasure to have had the opportunity to serve as a healthcare provider for this revered and honorable veteran — he certainly exemplified all the qualities of a true hero,” said Dr. Marc Maller, the VA Western New York Healthcare System’s Chief of Geriatric Care at the Batavia VA Medical Center site.

Cole was born in Buffalo in 1914 and later became a qualifier in swimming for the Olympic Games of 1936. After being shot down on Jan. 2, 1945, he battled for his survival, faced with the German armed forces, along with the brutal winter weather.

He had been badly wounded by shrapnel and small arms fire when his plane was shot down.

Despite suffering horrible beatings and treatment as a POW, and shrinking from 150 to 80 pounds, Cole survived the last five months of the war in Europe by sheer will, VA officials said. His true grit as the ranking leader along with a positive attitude in the camp saved the lives of many POWs who had almost given up.

He was eventually repatriated after the Soviet Army liberated his POW camp in the spring of 1945.

After the war, Cole married and went quickly back to work, owning and developing several successful businesses including a Ford car dealership, a liquor store and athletic club in downtown Buffalo. In 2016, his old Buffalo high school, now City Honors, awarded him his high school diploma in a special ceremony.

More recently, Cole was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame. He was given a special birthday celebration this past summer at the VA Medical Center.

VA Recreation Therapist Nancy Kaszynski cared for Cole for several years.

She noted “how lucky and blessed were we to share memories with him. He was full of joy and he always thrived in the company of others.”

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1