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WWII hero honored with medals and diploma at 102 years old

Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-31 18:13:18-04

At 102 years old, Captain Sydney Cole the son of Russian immigrants who now calls Buffalo home has seen the worst of humanity and the best.

On Friday, this former POW from World War II got the royal treatment at the VA Hospital in Buffalo. He received his high school diploma and 10 military service medals.

Congressman, Brian Higgins honored the war hero, who joined the Canadian Air Force after the U.S. Air Force turned him down. He was later drafted into the U.S. Army, where he took to the skies as a pilot during the second World War.

"I didn't expect this. I really and truly knew nothing about it," Cole said.

On January 2, 1945 Cole's military plane was shot down. Before jumping from the damaged plane, he risked his life saving his co-pilot. Cole was then put in Hitler's POW camp, where he was beaten and feed grass soup and rotten potatoes. He got rid of his dog tags before taken into the camp. The military tags identified him as Jewish.

After one year he was freed. Cole who is Jewish, also saw mass open graves of victims of the Holocaust. Seventy-two years later he's receiving the highest medals from two countries for his service.

The war veteran was a star swimmer in high school. He even qualified for the Olympics. But he wasn't able to finish school. Today City Honors filled that void by not only giving him his diploma, but also inducting him into the alumni hall of fame.

"It's a Hollywood story lived out in real life," Congressman Brian Higgins said.

"My dad deserves everything that said today and I'm extremely proud of my dad," Richard Cole said.