I heard him speak last night at "Stars & Stripes: A Salute to Our Veterans" at BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, Illinois. Seventy-five miles northwest of Chicago, Rockford is about an hour's drive from O'Hare Airport and the third largest city in the Land of Lincoln.
At age 78, Powell could easily pass for 58, and his message only gets better and better. He looked great, and he sounded great. Hosted by United Way's Paul Logli, former Chairman of the Board of the National District Attorneys Association and presented by the Salvation Army of Winnebago County and Bergstrom, Inc. Mentored by Quincy Jones, 14-year-old pianist Emily Bear, for the event, composed and played "The Bravest Journey."
I could tell you what Powell wore, a navy suit, white shirt, a red-and-blue diagonally striped tie, and a flag pin on his left shoulder. After all, clothes make the man, right? But it was a lot more than the clothes, folks.
It's what's inside that counts.
Character counts, it trumps all, and who in the political arena today, embodies it more than Gen. Colin Powell? Powell's parents emigrated to the United States from Jamaica. "Tell all your immigrants who work in your hotels not to come to work tomorrow and see what happens," said Powell, trashing Trump as in The Donald, still the Republican presidential frontrunner.
Born in Harlem, raised in the South Bronx, Gen. Powell said he got a "totally free education" eliminating the need to pay back burdensome student loans. Powell thanked the taxpayers of the state of New York who paid the taxes necessary to provide children of New York state with a free education, referring to his having graduated from the City College of New York, as well as being in the New York public school system, K-12.
Just take a look at the Republican debate stage with 17 odd candidates, counting the first-tier and second-tier, or undercard as the latter have been tagged. None of them can hold a candle to Gen. Powell. Shades of another general who became president in our lifetimes, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe in WWII, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as president from 1953-1961, followed by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, another WWII hero.
Powell emphasized the "solemn obligation" our country has to take care of returning veterans and their families. He told of his son Michael's crushing army injury, his long recovery period, not being able to return to military service because of his injury, instead becoming a lawyer and then Chair of the Federal Communications Commission.
Powell told the crowd of military veterans and their families that since leaving government service, he has kept "fingers" in military matters, diplomacy, and politics. "I suck up what I hear, " he said.
Besides Trump, Powell slammed Congress for "not getting the job done" and "the lack of civility." Speaking of prejudice, he added, "You have to teach children to hate, they are not born with it." Reminding us of Rodgers and Hammerstein's song from the much acclaimed musical South Pacific, a recurrent Broadway and film favorite, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught."
Retired four-star Gen. Colin Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, National Security Advisor under President Reagan, the only African-American to date on the Joint Chiefs of Staff of which he became Chairman, and on and on and on.
All from a boy, standing on a street corner in the South Bronx, whose only ambition growing up, he said, was to be a good solider.
Lonna Saunders comes from a military family. Her grandfather and great-uncle served in WWI, her father fought in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, and her godfather was a career army officer, attaining the rank of Colonel. Lonna Saunders may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.