Veteran Galen Cole served in WWII, where he narrowly survived a German artillery attack in 1945. Upon returning home to Bangor, Maine, he was awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery and began running and expanding ‘Cole Express,’ the trucking company run by his family.
According to the Bangor Daily News, Cole also served on the Bangor City Council from 1955 to 1958 and spent one year as the group’s chairman, otherwise known in town as the “mayor.”
As time went on, Cole knew that his brush with death during WWII and his service on the City Council would not be his last acts of service – and that’s when he and his wife, Sue, opened the ‘Cole Land Transportation Museum,” on Perry Road in Bangor, Maine in 1990.
After selling Cole Express in 1992, Cole chose to focus on the Transportation Museum, expanding its collection of antique trains, bicycles, trucks, tractors and more before deciding he could expand his helpful reach even farther by helping to share the stories of veterans like himself who had risked their lives for their country.
With the museum’s expanded mission, Cole began adding monuments to Maine veterans who served in WWII and Vietnam, and even provided more than 10,000 honorary maple walking sticks to veterans from WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In addition to the monuments and antique vehicles, Cole Land Transportation Museum hosts a program allowing school children to interview veterans, helping both the children and the veterans.
“A lot of veterans came and were telling their stories for the first time,” said Vietnam War veteran Robert O’Leary, coordinator of the museum’s educational programs. “A lot of them were suffering from PTSD for a very long time. Through telling their stories they began to have that relief, and Galen was responsible for that.”
The Cole Family Foundation, the family’s nonprofit that now runs the museum, also provides scholarships and support such as Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, the University of Maine Reading Recovery Program and the Bangor Region YMCA, according to their website.
In 1993, Cole was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and was given only two years to live. Although his cancer was never cured, he lived for 27 more years, keeping up with his museum and its various programs until the last few months of his life. He died peacefully in hospice care on January 9th, 2020 after being diagnosed with pneumonia.
“He was a strong-willed and passionate person,” said Janet Cole Cross, one of Cole’s five children. “He overcame a lot of health issues in his life, and other issues, and he tackled them head on. He died with his boots on. He was a very strong man.”
“He was of the old-school mindset that you contributed and gave back in the community in which you had a business,” said Cary Weston, a partner at the Bangor public relations firm Sutherland Weston and a recent member of the City Council. “It was like a rite of passage. It was not something you did if you felt like it or you had time.”
As US Senator Susan Collins said in a statement: “There is no one in Maine who was a greater advocate for our World War II veterans than Galen Cole.”
For information on the ceremony being held in honor of Galen Cole, please visit the museum website here.