Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s death at 84 was a moment that impacted most individuals my age. He was in many ways a turning point and touchstone for those of us in the military, bridging the time from Viet Nam to Desert Storm. And he was a beacon of hope for an Army that was held in such poor regard that our commander suggested we don’t wear our uniforms out in DC to avoid post-Viet Nam abuse.
I was fortunate enough to meet Colin Powell twice. The first time was when he was visiting troops at Walter Reed, the second was less formal. We both parked in the same parking lot in old town Alexandria. He liked my car (my most prized possession, a green BMW 320i). He said that he like Volvos, but he jokingly suggested we could trade. That a man with such a commanding presence could joke with a lowly captain truly impressed me. But his humanity always showed through.
The thing I remember the most about him was his remarkable self control and measured nature. I’m sure some of that was related to his upbringing, having to navigate race in 50’s and 60’s America. But you can imagine how important this was as a military commander. To paraphrase Kipling, if you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
I wish we had some of that leadership right now. His death just seemed to emphasize how little there is out there. His family was very open about his significant health issues — Parkinson’s disease and multiple myeloma, a cancer of blood cells that markedly suppresses your immune system. It was clear that the final straw was COVID pneumonia, but his family (and he I presume) emphasized that he was vaccinated, probably to assure folks he was not an anti-vaxxer.
Despite this, the media emphasized the COVID death after vaccination as if it was a failure of the vaccine. To honor General Powell let me reinforce, he died from a number of chronic diseases, with COVID as the final straw. It was not a failure of the vaccine, but of his immune system.
It may have been one of the few times in his life when some part of him failed.