Colin Powell was the speaker at a journalism conference in New York around 1990. It was a great speech, at
least that part of it that I could hear.
He spoke about his life as the son of Jamaican immigrants, his military career, his love for his wife, Alma, and his vow that he would never run for political office despite a full-court press by some factions of the GOP and Democratic Party to recruit him.
He kept that vow until his death Oct. 18.
I couldn't hear all of his speech, nor could I concentrate on the massive T-bone steak a la carte I was working on, because the four or five Army officers seated at my table were gushing over the general and telling me - even before he started - how much I was going to enjoy it.
The speech was boilerplate stuff, revealing no secrets, advancing no agendae, but they were right: the hundreds of journalists and I enjoyed it immensely and The Saunders Report is impelled to pay tribute to him upon his passing.
There has been jubilation in some quarters after Powell’s death, with some revisionists lamenting that he wasn’t tried for war crimes.
Most mature adults find it possible to pay tribute to the man while acknowledging that he wasn’t faultless. He was waaaay too hawkish for my tastes: I’m a pacifist who, speaking of full-court presses, believes most of the world’s problems can be solved by a game of one-on-one basketball – warring nations would send forth their best Adidas- or Nike-clad hoopster and settle things in an un-air-conditioned gym – and a cold drink afterwards.
While it’s doubtful one can become a four-star general, national security adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State without being a hawk, his image was unforgettably but not irredeemably tarnished when he falsely or inaccurately told the U.N. Security Council – and, more importantly, Congress - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
To his credit, though, he apologized for that. “It was painful,” he said in 2005 of his part in sending us into war. “It’s painful now.”
Imagine – a national leader admitting an error in judgment and apologizing for it!
More than the New York speech, though, the highlight for me was seeing how much the officers at my table respected the man. They were, quite frankly and despite the copious fruit salad (that's military lingo for ribbons and medals) on their own chests, groupies.
I was at the time a reporter for the Post-Tribune newspaper in Gary, Ind., a 150,000-circulation regional newspaper, and they had no reason to try to impress or fool me, since it was unlikely Gen. Powell was going to wake up the next day and say "Hmmm, I wonder what that chump in Indiana said about me." Their admiration for Gen. Powell was unmistakable and unfakeable.
So was that of Lt. Col. Mike Hoke, USMC-Ret., of High Point.
After the announcement of Powell's death, Hoke, The Saunders Report’s resident military expert, said “I’m as saddened by his death as I was by JFK’s. But that was adolescent 'sad'. This is old man 'sad'.”
Then, noting that we lost Powell on the same weekend that we lost Thelma Lou, he pointed out with stunning insight “The world is a less wise and less funny place today.”