Staff Sgt. Qasey Perry (left), crew chief with the 101st Air Refueling Wing, Maine Air National Guard, receives the 10,000th walking stick from Galen Cole at the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

Bangor’s Galen Cole, who died last week at the age of 94, lived a life defined by service to his country and to his community. He leaves behind an important legacy, and plenty of lessons.

Cole, a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient, went on to have a successful career in business and was very active in civic life here in the Bangor area. His own story is a remarkable one, but it was his instrumental role in helping other veterans tell their stories that stands out.

The Galen Cole Family Land Transportation Museum, which Cole and his wife Sue opened in 1990, became an important vehicle for honoring and better understanding the experiences of Maine veterans. The museum includes monuments for Maine Purple Heart recipients, and World War II and Vietnam War veterans. It also has helped provide over 10,000 walking sticks to veterans of various wars in honor of their service, and hosts a program for school-aged children to interview and learn from veterans.

“A lot of veterans came and were telling their stories for the first time,” Robert “Bob” O’Leary, a Vietnam War veteran who has coordinated education programing at the museum, told the BDN. “A lot of them were suffering PTSD for a very long time. Through telling their stories they began to have that relief, and Galen was responsible for that.”

Some of Maine’s most prominent politicians, present and past, released statements following Cole’s death, a testament to the impact he had across the state.

“Galen’s contributions to our state are immeasurable, not only as Bangor’s Mayor, but as a business owner, as founder of the Cole Land Transportation Museum, and, most importantly, as a life-long champion for Maine’s veterans, particularly through his walking stick recognition program,” said Gov. Janet Mills. “On behalf of the people of Maine, I express my deepest gratitude for Galen’s service to our state and nation and offer my condolences to his loved ones, fellow veterans, and the people of Bangor as they grieve and honor his memory.”

“There is no one in Maine who was a greater advocate for our World War II veterans than Galen Cole,” said Sen. Susan Collins. “From the military displays at the Cole Transportation Museum to the beautiful maple walking sticks that he distributed to veterans, he honored those who wore the uniforms of our country at every opportunity. Galen was responsible for educating countless schoolchildren about the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families.

“Over the course of his 94 years, Galen was a public servant, a business leader, a philanthropist, a veteran, and much, much more,” said Sen. Angus King. “It’s impossible to summarize the totality of his contributions to Maine, but if there’s one thing I choose to remember about him, it’s this: Galen Cole helped people.”

“Throughout his life, Galen was an exemplary citizen, epitomizing what it means to be a Mainer,” Former Sen. Olympia Snowe and former Gov. John McKernan said in a joint statement, according to the Portland Press Herald. “He was an example to both of us growing up — from his distinctive military service to building one of New England’s largest transportation companies, as well as a fascinating museum illustrating our state’s transportation history.”

Here in Bangor, Cole was remembered as someone who gave his time and energy to many different community efforts.

“Bangor mourns the loss of Galen Cole,” Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague said on Twitter. “He served us in so many ways from military service to the Bangor City Council, countless boards, committees, and causes, and through steadfast commitment to veterans in Maine and nationwide. We are forever in his debt.”

Just as Cole helped recognize and honor the service of so many other veterans, it’s fitting that so many people are recognizing the significant contributions he made. That recognition will continue Saturday, Jan. 25 with an 11 a.m. public memorial service at the Anah Shriners hall in Bangor. We expect it will be a crowded service.