VA Western New York Healthcare System
104-year-old Army Air Corps Veteran Honored
As the Nation honored the fallen at Pearl Harbor ceremonies on December 7, VA Western New York Healthcare System (VAWNYHS) in Buffalo, New York, recognized the 104-year old Willow Lodge Community Living Center resident and World War II Veteran, Sydney Cole. His family, friends and VA employees gathered to watch the documentary dedicated to his long life and World War II service as a former captain and pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The documentary, “For My Country” was produced and released by Julian Wilson, an independent filmmaker from Los Angeles who is making a 12-part mini-series of films dedicated to quickly vanishing WWII veterans. The 20-minute documentaries Mr. Wilson has produced to date capture the precious stories of the greatest generation.
Born in Buffalo in 1914, he later became a champion swimmer in high school. In the film, Mr. Cole’s life and military service was highlighted with many family photographs, historical video clips, and personal interviews that offered painful stories and reflections as a Prisoner of War (POW). When shot down on January 2, 1945, over the Bastogne, Belgium, during the epic last major German offensive of the war, “The Battle of the Bulge,” Sydney was in a bitter battle for his survival not only from the enemy, but from the horrible weather. Badly injured from shrapnel and ground arms fire he sustained in the cockpit, only his parachute was available to wrap himself against the bitter sub-zero cold and ward off the worst winter in decades. He laid unconscious for what he thought were a few days until the Germans captured him, laying his tattered body on top of a tank for transport eastward. Before losing consciousness, however, he was wise enough to remove his dog tags that identified him as “H” for Hebrew. He threw his tags as far as he could in to the woods. Had the enemy determined his religious affiliation, he would have been shot on the spot or sent to a concentration camp.
Despite the horrible beatings and the deprivations, he endured as a POW, shrinking from 150 to 80 pounds, he survived the last five months of the war in Europe by sheer will. His will as the ranking leader with a positive attitude in the camp saved many POWs who had almost given up. He was repatriated after the Russian Army took over his POW camp.
After the war, Sydney married and went quickly back to work, owning and developing several successful businesses to include a car dealership, a liquor store, and an athletic club in downtown Buffalo. He is a recent inductee into the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame and was finally awarded his high school diploma in 2016.
To this day, Sydney still suffers from the frostbite of that terrible Western Front winter of 1944-45, wearing thin cotton gloves to keep his hands comfortable. Despite his cold hands, Sydney has a warm smile and cheerful heart for the multitude of visitors and family members who see him each week at VA WNYHS’s Buffalo Community Living Center to say hello, have a meal, go for walks, and share precious stories of the greatest generation.