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George Edward Coles Jr., 71, of Palo Alto, Calif., a retired Navy officer and native of Buffalo, died Sunday (Oct. 19, 1997) in Palo Alto Veterans Hospital after a brief illness.

He was the son of the first African-American foreman at Buffalo's main post office. He was a graduate of Burgard Vocational High School, where he majored in auto mechanics.

In his 28 years in the Navy, Coles rose in rank from apprentice seaman to lieutenant commander. He was a decorated veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, where his last assignment was as engineering officer aboard the aircraft carrier Hancock.

He served on a variety of ships, from aircraft carriers to nuclear submarines. Chosen to train on nuclear submarines in the early 1960s, he attended submarine school in Windsor Locks, Conn., with the crew of the first nuclear sub, the Thresher.

Because the Navy retained him as an instructor at Windsor Locks, he escaped the tragedy of the Thresher, which sank in the Atlantic, killing all its crew. He retired to Palo Alto in 1970.

Surviving are his wife, Nell; a son, George III of Sacramento, Calif.; a brother, Robert T.; and two grandsons.

Services will be held Friday in Palo Alto.

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