Donald Tracey Cole was born on March 24th, 1926 in Bergman, Arkansas. He was the 8th child of Gurley Daniel Cole, and Sara Jane Amelia Moore Cole. The family relocated to Mountain Grove, MO when Don was 2. The family grew as a younger brother and 2 younger sisters were born in to the family. Don passed away on April 26, 2019, at Avalon Care Center in Pasco, WA at the age of 93.
As a child, Don lived in a 2 room, dirt floor cabin in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri with his large family. His childhood was marked by adventures and misadventures with his many siblings, but he was forever influenced by the hard economic times of that era made worse by the “Dust Bowl” and the Great Depression. Although his parents did their best, Don recalled living in “grinding poverty” that marked both the region and the era. The children were expected to help with chores as well as attend school, which was a 3 to 4 mile walk from home. He recalled that they took lard and onion sandwiches to school “when we had it….We never asked what was for dinner, we asked how much!” His mother used a Model A Ford door that was hammered into pot to cook for the brood. Ration coupons were the norm and the one pair of shoes a year that each child got had to last through the Winter. Holes in the soles mended with scraps of leather or pasteboard until the Spring and Summer in which shoes were abandoned completely. He often said he didn’t realize how poor they were because everyone around him was struggling, too. His father attempted farming and when Don was asked what they raised on the farm, his answer was “dirt”. His father later took a job for a railroad, providing the family with some additional income but was gone for a few months at a time. His mother picked cotton to help earn money, often returning to work only a few hours after delivering the most recent baby. In 1937, the family packed up their few belongings and following the footsteps of many from the midwest, like a page from The Grapes of Wrath, migrated along the southern US, through California, Oregon and Washington, picking fruit and other agricultural work. The family landed in the Yakima Valley, making their home in Sunnyside, WA. His father passed away only 4 months after they arrived, again leaving Don’s mother and older siblings destitute.
Don and his brothers, like many young men of that era, joined in the War effort in the early 1940’s to both support their country and as a way out of poverty. Don dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps on 4/12/43 at age 17. He remarked that his childhood had been so hard, that the Marine Corps was almost a relief and that he didn’t know what he would have done without the Marines. He initially thought it would be a “big adventure”. He completed boot camp in San Diego, CA, then served in the 3rd Btn, 5th Regiment, stationed at the El Toro Marine Air Station from 1943-44, the Hawaii Elva Marine Air Station from 1944-45 and the Okinawa Invasion of 1945, a 3 month battle that resulted in over 150,000 casualties. Don’s military service was the topic of an August 4, 1995 article in the Daily Sun News. Although to that point, he said, he and other young soldiers in his company were “pretty care-free”, the realities of war were soon apparent when he was sent into combat. On April 1, the ship he was on in a large flotilla 18 miles off the Okinawa coast was hit by a Kamakaze pilot. The attack severely damaged the ship and killed 130 men on board. Don was thrown off his bunk some 20’ in the air, and injured in the event. No medical was available on the ship and he used electrician’s tape and a handkerchief to bind his wound. He was still pressed into service setting up radio communications when they landed on Okinawa, enduring his share of hand-to-hand combat. He recalled later that although he was following orders, and knew what his job was as a Marine, taking other men’s lives was difficult for him. He left Okinawa on July 4th after the island was secured. He returned to Hawaii only to be retrained for a final assault on Japan. The men were told that there was little chance of surviving. President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs probably saved his life as the Japanese had decided to execute any US solder that they caught. Having dodged death countless times, Don was discharged in 1946 having achieved the rank of Staff Sgt. He joined the Marine Reserves upon his discharge. In 1950, he was drafted into the Korean War, served in Korea for 6 months and was mustered out in 1951. Don was proud of his military service, and forever retained the stoic discipline of a Marine. He was careful of the memories he shared, however, and he never glorified war or killing. His comment in the 1995 article summed it up: “War is terrible. It should be the last thing people want. All in all it is people killing people. It’s pretty basic.”
Don returned to the Yakima Valley and began his lifelong career in journalism. He took a job at the Sunnyside Sun newspaper doing clean up, later becoming a pressman and for a short time, Editor. In between press set up and cleaning, he hand set type, put together ads and ran the printing press. Don had a very creative side, and loved the written word. For several years, he authored a weekly column “Through the Looking Glass” which had a large following, entertaining the reader with Don’s tongue-in-cheek, wry Missourian humor. He also authored a few other books including Cole’s Dictionary of Inverted Nonsense and Other Fractured Disciplines as well as a small handbook of winemaking. His final book, Soldier’s Beer, was a serious social commentary. After retiring from the Sunnyside Sun, Don started his own twice monthly newspaper, the Home Reporter, publishing 290 issues over 12 years until health issues forced him to close it in 1999. The newspaper became a favorite in the area, with it’s folksy down-home reporting and local profiles. He had become such a fixture in local journalism that his retirement in 1999 was covered in an article in the Ruralite.
Don was a loving and responsible family man. Shortly after returning to Sunnyside after WWII, Don met the lovely green-eyed, auburn-haired Ruth Nadine Evans and according to her sister, “was smitten.” Don’s courtship of Ruth involved not only the usual dates over sodas and coffee, but he also took more drastic measures to get her attention such as the times he flew a small airplane over the top of the Avalon Theatre in which Ruth worked, “buzzing” the theatre, unnerving the unfortunate patrons. Despite Don’s practical jokes, Ruth agree to marry him anyway on May 27, 1949. Their first child, Donna, was born in August 1950. Ruth and Donna followed Don to Camp Pendleton where they stayed until his return in 1951. A second daughter, Connie, was born in 1952 followed by his 3rd daughter, Kris in 1957. Don’s enduring legacies to his children included preventing them from oversleeping in the mornings by announcing loudly at 7 AM on weekends that “The day’s half over!” and that anything on your plate was not only edible, but delicious and you’d better eat it or he would. Being a Marine, he raised his daughters to be strong and responsible. They also knew how to change their own tires. He always impressed the importance of getting an education, his own educational opportunities being sidelined by the demands of supporting a family. It was always a source of sadness to him.
Don was a man of many other interests. He loved organic gardening, oil painting and winemaking. The latter, which he learned from neighbor William Bridgman and his father-in-law Ernest Evans, stayed with the family which is now in it’s 3rd generation of home brewers. Don was also firm believer in community service and was a member of the VFW and the Eagles Club. He and his wife Ruth participated in many local events and he was honored by being Parade Marshall in Sunnyside. Don loved playing the banjo, bluegrass and country music and in his younger days loved to go dancing with his pretty wife. He played the harmonica right up until his last days.
Don’s marriage to Ruth Cole lasted for nearly 70 years until her death in April, 2018. In addition to his daughters, he was blessed with grandchildren Angie Ellis, Teena Franklin, Treeva Edwards, Sarah Pounds and Isaac Huether. He was blessed with great grandchildren including Blake Bare, Brianna Bare, Caleb Edwards, MacKenzie Ellis, Hailey Ellis, Jemma Franklin, Kian Pounds and Megan Pounds. His last few months of life were spent under the loving care of daughter Connie, then later he was transferred to Avalon Care Center. Although the effects of Parkinson’s and strokes had limited his ability to speak, Don became a favorite there, entertaining other residents and staff with his harmonica playing and often handed out copies of his books hoping to cheer up the other residents.
It is difficult to distill the life of this extraordinary man into a few paragraphs. Don was a direct descendant from St. Thomas More, and true to these bloodlines, he was a strongly principled man, a man of letters, a renaissance man, a self-made man, who had seen the ravages of war, abject poverty and had made the decision to make the most of his life and and have fun doing it. He left the world a better place than he found it.
Viewing and Visitation will be held on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Smith Funeral Home, Sunnyside, WA. Funeral Service will be held on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. at Smith Funeral Home, Sunnyside, WA. Burial will follow at the Lower Valley Memorial Gardens, Sunnyside, WA with Military Honors. Those wishing to sign Donald's online memorial book may do so at www.funeralhomesmith.com Smith Funeral Home in care or arrangements. .