According to those who knew him, retired Gen. Colin Powell, who reportedly died of COVID-19 complications Monday, was a leader so beloved by his troops they were so excited to meet him they clapped for him instead of saluting.
His leadership abilities were such that the color of his skin was never in question, according to Jean Shine, Fort Hood area Civilian Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. In fact, her uncle was the one to originally appoint Powell to his first command, she said.
“I’ve met him and admired him. He was a great communicator,” Shine said. “A lot of people at one time wanted him to be president. We need more people like him.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, a Belton area resident, worked for Powell after he commanded the 3rd Armored Division during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and said Powell had the finest mind he had ever met.
“My only time at the Pentagon was after Desert Storm because they wanted someone there who had been involved in it,” Funk said, noting that Powell had been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time. “He told me, ‘I know you don’t want to be here, but I need you.’ He was an even better person than his reputation. He was very astute -- he listened to everything that was told to him and was able to pick out the gems to figure things out. And he was inevitably right about his decisions.”
Funk said he never heard Powell yell at anyone and always followed his own personal principles, which were developed during Powell’s time serving in Vietnam. His soldiers loved him, and despite becoming the secretary of state under then President George W. Bush, he was never a politician.
“You would never have known he was a four star general because he wore it so well,” Funk said. “He once got off a Black Hawk helicopter in northern Iraq (during Operation Iraqi Freedom), and they wanted him to address the soldiers. He immediately went over there, and instead of saluting him, they started clapping for him. They were so thrilled to meet him.”
Funk was the commander of 3rd Armored Division during Desert Storm. At the time, Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“He was the best combat leader of my time,” Funk said. “He should definitely lie in state at the Capitol, but he never cared about that. He was totally selfless. He did his duty in every way he could.
“To venerate this man is the right thing to do.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer remembered Powell visiting the U.S. Army Academy at West Point while Palmer served as the university’s superintendent.
“When I was the superintendent, I appointed the first woman to be the top cadet at the academy. That was the same day (Powell) was appointed as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Palmer said. “The next day, the appointment of the first woman as top cadet at West Point was front page on the New York Times, and Gen. Powell’s appointment was like page 4 or 5. He wrote a note of congratulations to my cadet and joked that it was totally polite to upstage the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had a good sense of humor.”
Funk said Powell was a rare leader who could never be replaced.
“I admired him so much,” he said. “Statesman would be a good word to use for him. There just is no comparison.”