In the death of Haydn Samuel Cole, the Class of 1885 lost one of its most brilliant and most distinguished members.
Haydn S. Cole was born in Newark Valley, Tioga County, New York, on October 12, 1861. Late in 1873, the family moved to Kewanee, Illinois, where Cole’s father was to practice medicine. Having attended the schools of Buffalo and of Newark Valley, Haydn was able to enter the high school at Kewanee and to graduate from it in June, 1876. In order to secure the foundation in Greek necessary for college entrance in those days, however, he attended a school at Princeton, Illinois, for a year before entering Knox College at Galesburg. At the end of his first college year he was offered an appointment to Annapolis but declined it at his mother’s request. The year 1879-80 found him at the University of Illinois, covering the work of the sophomore and junior years in one school year. Desiring to complete his college education at Yale, he was forced to take up teaching in the fall of 1880 in order to earn the necessary funds. At this time, however, his congressman offered him the opportunity to compete for an appointment to West Point. Cole dropped everything and “crammed” for the examination—it had been years since he had studied arithmetic, grammar, geography, or U.S. History. Early in June, 1881, he took the examination with thirty-six other candidates; and, in spite of a weakness in spelling, won the appointment. He writes “I do not believe that I failed to answer correctly a single question, except in spelling, in which I was as bad as usual.”
Finally, in late June, 1881, Haydn joined some one hundred and fifty young men at West Point and, with them, took the entrance examination. Again he was successful, and with sixty-nine other fortunate lads became a “plebe” at West Point. He was nineteen years old at the time. By September, “turnbacks” and late arrivals had joined the Class of ‘85, bringing its initial strength up to a total of ninety-one members.
During his four years at the Military Academy, Cole was outstanding both as a student and as a cadet. For four consecutive years he was classed as a “distinguished cadet” academically; ranking three, six, four, and five in his class at the end of each of the four years, respectively. At the end of his “plebe” year he was made a cadet corporal, then a first sergeant, and finally, in his first class year, cadet captain, commanding Company “B” In June, 1885, he was graduated and at his own request was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry. While on graduation leave he visited his uncle at Sedalia, Missouri, and there met Miss Mary E. Mense of St. Louis whom he later married in April, 1S87. On September 30, 1885, Lieutenant Cole reported for duty with the Third Infantry, then stationed at Port Ellis, near Bozeman, Montana.
Port Ellis was abandoned a year later, and the Third Infantry was transferred to Fort Custer. There Cole’s duties were varied and included one period of field service against the Crow Indians. At that time, Custer was the headquarters of the First Cavalry; its garrison consisted of five troops of the regiment, the regimental band, and two companies of the Third Infantry. He writes of that period, “These troops made the garrison large enough to afford much entertaining and an active social life; I believe my wife looks back upon her year at Fort Custer as one full of novelty, excitement, and pleasure.”
While on a visit to St. Paul, Minnesota, in February, 1888, he was requested to join the staff of General Ruger as Chief Engineer Officer of the Department of Dakota. He promptly accepted the detail and, after a few months duty at Fort Snelling, joined General Ruger’s staff. He remained on this duty until he was retired as a first lieutenant, for disability incurred in line of duty. The estimation in which Cole was held is eloquently described in a letter from the Commanding General of the Department from which the following is an excerpt:
I am directed by the Commanding General of the Department to convey to you his thanks for the able manner in which you have performed the duties of your office, during your service under his command. He directs me to say that he shares in the general regret of all in the army who know you in the severance of your connection with the active army. You have during your short service by your quiet, unostentatious manner and unfailing courtesy, personal as well as official, made warm friends of all on duty at these headquarters ... You retire from the active army bearing with you the best wishes of all for future success.
Cole had studied law during the years of service in Montana, and, before his retirement, had been admitted to the bar. Since the retired pay of a first lieutenant was a meagre ninety dollars a month, he decided to take up the practice of law in St. Louis and entered the law office of a family friend, Mr. David P. Dyer. However, the climate of St. Louis did not agree with him and he was forced to return to St. Paul. There he joined a firm which became known as Stevens, O’Brien, Cole, and Albrecht. Business was good until the panic of 1893. Some of Cole’s investments “went bad”; and, before he lost everything, he decided to tour Europe. He relates, “This desperate effort to obtain some good out of what we had before someone or something else failed proved to be the turning point in our affairs. Our business improved to such an extent that in March, 1899, with my wife and two children, I was able to sail for Europe once more.”
During the war with Spain, Cole was denied active service because no retired officers were being ordered to the particular staff duty for which he had applied.
Early in 1902, a committee of St. Paul bankers invited him to become the President of the St. Paul Trust Company for the purpose of winding up its affairs. During the depression it had become insolvent. In less than two years, Cole wound up the affairs successfully and then organized the Northwestern Trust Company. Business was good, and he did not leave active control of the firm until 1914. When he did resign he was president and a director of the latter firm, director and member of the discount committee of the First National Bank of St. Paul, president and director of the First National Bank of Hastings, a director of the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company and president of the Twin Falls North Side Land and Water Company.
When the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, Cole asked for active duty with troops, but had small hope of obtaining such duty. However, he writes, “I had a classmate who was Depot Quartermaster at New York City. I believed that city to be the best place for me, and I asked to be sent there.” The writer was that classmate and, having a particularly difficult assignment for which I was looking for a competent and experienced man, I asked that Cole be placed on active duty and sent to me. My request was granted and Haydn reported in May, 1917. He was assigned to duty as an executive officer in charge of railroads. In November, he was appointed “Supervising Superintendent of Docks, Wharves, and Terminal facilities which are or may be operated under the direction of the General Superintendent, Army Transport Service, New York City.” The new assignment made Cole responsible for the care, upkeep, and business management of very large properties, including the entire Bush Terminal property and a large group of North River piers.
Cole’s efficiency, business knowledge, and ability, to carry responsibility were soon recognized; and his duties gradually expanded. In April, 1918, he was made storage officer of the Port of New York and was relieved from his duties as officer in charge of docks, wharves, etc., although he was ordered to retain the business management of these facilities insofar as leases, contracts, and financial matters were concerned. By that time, he had been advanced to the grade of Major. On May 11, 1918, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel and on June 14, 1918, became a full colonel. During the latter part of 1918, as Port Storage Officer, he was in command and in charge of The Bush Terminal, The U. S. Army Base at Port Newark, New Jersey, The Engineer Depot at Kearney, New Jersey, refrigerator warehouses in New York and in Jersey City, many piers in Hoboken and New York City, The Hoboken Shore Railroad, and as Storage Officer he was the receiving, storing, and shipping agency at New York for all Corps and Bureaus.
Concerning Colonel Cole’s service, General A. C. Dalton, Quartermaster General of the Army, wrote the following:
The excellent business ability displayed by Colonel Cole is of a character that is rarely found among Army officers. He brought with him on his return to active duty a most valuable business knowledge acquired after his retirement from active service, which, coupled with his fine spirit of loyalty, made his services of the highest value to the department at a time when the burdens falling upon this office were of a character that made it practically impossible to find officers of the Army with business training and experience sufficient to carry on the work.
Colonel Cole was relieved from active duty at his own request on January 4, 1919, after twenty months of continuous service without rest. Four years later, just after he had returned from a trip to Europe with Mrs. Cole, he received a letter from the Adjutant General of the Army advising him that the President had awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal with the following citation:
For exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services in the performance of duties of great responsibility as Colonel, Q. M. C., United States Army, serving in turn as Assistant to the General Superintendent, Army Transport Service, New York City; General Manager, Hoboken Shore Railroad; in charge of operations at Bush Terminal System, Brooklyn, New York, during the World War.
On a perfect June day in 1923, Colonel Cole was decorated by General George B. Duncan at Fort Snelling, before all the troops of the post who were paraded for the ceremony.
From January, 1919, on. Colonel Cole led a quiet and peaceful life at St. Paul, looking after his private interests, travelling with his wife, and enjoying the companionship of his children and grand-children. His death on February 13, 1939, at St. Paul, was very sudden and a great shock to his family and many friends. He is survived by his son, Doctor Wallace H. Cole, of St. Paul and by his daughter, Mrs. Walter W. Boardman, of Woodside, near Redwood, California.
I knew Haydn intimately, both as a cadet and in later life. He had a brilliant mind, as well as a rigid code of ethics in his dealings with others. He hated deceit, untruthfulness; and admired honesty, integrity, and forthrightness. He was a true, loving and loyal friend, a devoted husband and father. Throughout his life he was a fine example of our revered motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Although he exceeded the allotted three score years and ten, the country lost a true patriot who was, until the last, ready to make any sacrifice for its welfare and protection. His beloved wife survived him by only two weeks.
—J. M. C.