A Champion for Veterans
From an early age, some folks know exactly what they were meant to do in life.
Galen Cole’s childhood dream was to open a transportation museum. At 90 years young, he’s been able to live out his dream as founder of the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor where he’s just as involved today as the day it opened in 1990.
“It’s been more work than I expected, but it’s presented more thrills and more recognition than I have ever expected,” he explained.
Cole served in World War II as a replacement with the army’s 5th Armored Division when he was just 19 years old. In April 1945, he found himself traveling in the back of a half-track when he was asked to move out of his seat by another soldier in his squad. Cole willingly complied. Later a German shell landed where Cole had been sitting, killing the five men on that side of the half track and wounding the others.
Cole made a promise to God if he was able to return home he would do his best to help his community and his fellow man, leaving both better than the way he found them. He was discharged in 1946 and has been working to fulfill his promise ever since.
“Having been one of the most fortunate people to survive the war, last June I met these three ladies whose uncle was killed when he requested his old seat back when I joined the 5th Armored Division. Meeting them 71 years later is probably the biggest single surprise I’ve had in life,” Cole said.
The army veteran has continuously brought history alive at his museum, not only through the artifacts and vast collection of Maine transportation vehicles on site, but also through the one-on-one interactions he arranges between Maine veterans and school children.
“We’ve had more than 45,000 students from all corners of the state of Maine that have been here,” Cole said. “Some of our veterans have now interviewed over 1,000 children. They sit down with three children at a time.”
Cole was recently named Honorary Aide de Camp to Governor Paul LePage and presented with a plaque from Brigadier General Douglas Farnham, Adjutant General for the state of Maine. It’s the fourth time Cole has received the award.
“Galen Cole and the Cole Transportation Museum continue to provide unique opportunities to honor the service of our veterans. Teaching school children about the sacrifice of service members and providing nearly 10,000 walking sticks to veterans are just two examples of why it was appropriate to honor Galen as an Honorary Aide de Camp to Governor LePage,” explained Farnham.
The first time Cole was named Aide de Camp was back in 1960 by then-Governor John Reed. He was given the award again in 1988 when John McKernan was Governor and a third time in 2008 when Governor John Baldacci was in the Blaine House.
“The first one in 1960 was a true honor. It was before we built and constructed the museum, but we were still doing things for kids and veterans,” said Cole. “I am not aware of any other person who has received it four times or any other person who has received it from both political parties.”
Cole has the award on display inside his office at the museum. Although his name is the only one on the award, Cole believes the recognition is for all the veterans who volunteer at the museum.
“Our foundation is committed now with my children and grandchildren on the board to continue this program for generations to come,” he explained. “Our governors are recognizing what we do, and I like to emphasize we, because we have well over 100 volunteer veterans who are a major part of what we do. That honor is for them as much as it is for me.”