General Colin Powell: nine veterans speak


By Vivian Blevins
Contributing Columnist

General Colin Powell (Apr. 5, 1937 to Oct. 18, 2021) was born in Harlem of Haitian immigrant parents, Luther and Maud Powell, both of African and Scottish ancestry.

In It Worked for Me, Lessons in Life and Leadership, (published in 2012), Powell, a professional soldier and statesman, advocates “Trust your people” and “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

By the time you read comments from veterans who speak of General Powell’s legacy, the American flags will no longer be flying at half staff, but he will forever be an important part of the memories of American veterans for putting his philosophy into action..

World War II U.S. Army veteran Harry Ashburn says, “I have the highest respect for General Powell, totally. When he moved into government service after military service, he brought those same qualities of leadership. He engendered respect throughout the world as well as in our own country. After he served as Secretary of State, he declined to run for president and that was my only disappointment as he would have been an outstanding president and would have been elected across the whole political spectrum.”

At age 17, Steve Skinner joined the U.S. Navy and was aboard the U. S. S. Independence in the South China Sea on his 18th birthday. Skinner says of Powell, ”A true leader, he was a soldier’s soldier. He cared for his men, knew their names, looked out for them. He was a disciplinarian but not to the point that he was a hard-nosed ruler. He could make decisions in the heat of battle, and the men would follow him anywhere.”

Nick Essinger, U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, is quick to say, “Unequivocally General Powell was one of the finest military officers. I met him in Nam when I was serving throughout the country in a multitude of tasks. He listened to people, allowed them to speak, and that’s rare in the military for officers. I wish I had been able to serve with him.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Ray Snedegar, a player in “Operation Babylift,” says, “I heard about General Powell throughout the Vietnam War, and people loved him. The rift between military officers and the enlisted can be wide, but he was an outstanding military officer who took care of his men and an outstanding statesperson.”

As an 18-year-old, Robert Castillo was stationed in Okinawa in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and one of his jobs was to put together bodies of the war dead to send home to their families. Castillo says, “I had heard a little about General Powell, so I read about him. He was more than a general, a politician: He was a man who learned that in order to achieve success, he needed to know what made all of life in general work. Unlike most officers, he wanted to know what his troops thought, felt, concerns and needs they had. He actually spoke with them. This alone put him above many officers of his time.”

Helicopter pilot in Vietnam, James Miller reports,” Military leadership is always a mystery for the line soldier: Will the officer at the top know who we are and what will he expect of us? General Powell with superior intellect, poise, and uncanny command of the situation was the consummate commander. He came up through the ranks and “had been there, done that” and had the hat and t-shirt to prove it.”

U. S. Air Force pilot Mike Jackson who earned a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross in Vietnam, indicates, “General Powell was an example to all of us both in and out of the military on how to best serve our nation and our fellow citizens. In all of his roles, he stood for honor and respect — for his country and its citizens.”

“But what of the Iraq War?” some readers might ask. U.S. Marine William Bruce Ayers reports that “General Powell was a great American who provided leadership at a time when we needed it in both Democratic and Republican administrations. All of the reports that he had been given on Iraq, including from reliable sources in Europe, indicated that there were weapons of mass destruction there. So many refuse to admit mistakes or attempt to cover them. I really appreciate that he later admitted mistakes.”

As Veterans Day approaches and we remember all who have served or are serving, another Vietnam veteran Carl DeSantis writes of Powell, “A man among men/Walked the talk/Strength of character unmatched/Humble when found fallible.”

And James Miller writes, “May God’s divine love grant General Powell eternal rest and let His perpetual light shine on him. Rest in peace, General, rest in peace.”

Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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