FIFE LAKE — Maurice “Maury” Cole was just 20 years old when he fought in the month-long Battle of the Bulge that ended in 1945.
The World War II veteran and Fife Lake resident, 94, died Monday. He is one of the last remaining west Michigan veterans from the battle in which more than 20,000 Allied soldiers were killed.
Cole is one of 40,000 GI's who were wounded in the ferocious battle.
“He was in a building with several other men when a mortar struck the building,” said Cole's grandson Tim Ingersoll. “He was the only one who survived … He was very proud to serve his country.”
Cole's funeral service was held Friday and was attended by an honor guard made up of members from the Veterans of Foreign Wars 2780 and the American Legion Post 35, both of which are in Traverse City.
VFW member Bill Volkening coordinates the all-volunteer honor guard, which attends funerals of veterans from every war. The group has attended 114 funerals so far this year. On June 27, Armed Forces Day, the honor guard attended seven funerals and two flag ceremonies.
The rifle salute, the playing of Taps and the presentation of the American flag to the family of the deceased are always emotional, Volkening said.
“To us this is something that the veterans deserve,” Volkening said. “Their families deserve it, too. You try not to show your emotions, but it's hard not to.”
Volkening knew Cole from Cole's monthly visits to the VFW as a part of the West Michigan Chapter of the Battle of the Bulge Association, an organization he helped found. He was also the last surviving member of the association.
Battle veteran Charles Lewis died in 2017; another member, Richard Rizzio Sr., died in December.
Ingersoll said his grandfather talked about his travels and all the places he visited, but did not talk about combat.
“It was really hard for him,” he said. “He didn't want us to know.”
Cole likely had post-traumatic stress disorder, Ingersoll said. In those days the condition was known as 'shell-shock' and went largely undiagnosed.
There were other leftovers from the war, Ingersoll said.
“He was on the front line for over a month. The whole time it was below freezing and he developed frostbite. Ever since then his hands never worked right and his fingers got crippled up with arthritis.”
Even so, Cole worked until he was well into his 80s at the septic business he owned.
“He didn't want to retire,” Ingersoll said.
Cole is survived by his wife, Barbara Ross, his five children and one stepdaughter, and several grandchildren, including six great-great-grandchildren.
“He was a good man and he worked very hard,” Ross said.
The couple was together for nearly 25 years, but married just two years ago in a small ceremony held in their home. She was 69; he was 91.
“He insisted that we get married,” Ross said.
Ross married her first husband at 16, so she had to do some serious thinking about tying the knot once again, she said. She said “yes” in the end.
“When we met each other we just clicked,” she said. “I loved him very dearly.”
Cole will be buried Tuesday at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.
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