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Virginians react to death of Colin Powell: 'It really stabbed me in the heart'

Colin Powell
Posted at 6:19 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 18:46:44-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's veterans, politicians and others offered condolences Monday upon news of the passing of former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell from complications of COVID-19.

"Colin Powell was a good and honorable man, and his death is a loss for our country," said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in a tweet. "I was proud to serve under him in the Army during Operation Desert Storm when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pam and I are saddened by his loss, and send prayers to his loved ones."

Many members of Virginia's Congressional delegation put out statements on social media as well.

"General Colin Powell was an admirable public servant and a great Virginian. My thoughts are with his loved ones," wrote Sen. Tim Kaine.

"General Colin Powell was a true American hero who embodied the values and character we should all strive for. May we take this time to honor his life and his service to our nation. My prayers are with his family as they mourn this incredible loss," added Rep. Rob Wittman.

Among those who shared their memories of Powell was Harold Sayles who serves as the national chaplain for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and with VFW Post 10654 in Richmond.

Sayles served 12 years active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division and an additional decade in the U.S. Army Reserves. He said during that time he had a couple of interactions with Powell, including a dedication ceremony for the Buffalo Soldier Monument at Fort Leavenworth in 1992.

"His voice resonated when he spoke, people stopped and listened," said Sayles. "And from that first time I met him and talking about the Buffalo Soldiers, it really stirred my soul because my father was in the military when it was segregated and some of the things that General Powell talked about. My father relayed it to me, he went through those things."

Sayles said his wife told him about Powell's passing and it caught him off guard.

"It really stabbed me in the heart because I respected him. He was one of my heroes, him and General Robinson," added Sayles. Robinson was Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr., the first African-American to become a four-star general. "Those are people that had an impact on me and what I did in the military. And now what I carry on in civilian life. Just his presence, his humanity, we lost a great soldier, a great statesman, and most importantly, a great humanitarian."

Dr. Clay Mountcastle, director of the Virginia War Memorial and 21 year veteran, also shared his memories of Powell including being at the same 1992 speech as Sayles.

"That day out in Kansas was a very stormy, kind of a nasty day and as the ceremony was beginning, we saw these intimidating black storm clouds rolling in, and we were all like, 'Oh, this isn't going to be good.'," recalled Mountcastle. "And he walked up on stage and he looked at the audience, he said, 'I know what you're thinking. Don't worry about that. It's not going to rain on us not today.' And he gave this wonderful dedication speech for about 20 minutes and then walked off the stage. And as soon as he was done, it opened up and poured on us and drenched us. But he was so good that he even could not only inspire us, because apparently stopped the weather while he was talking. "

Mountcastle, who was commissioned in 1994, said Powell was the gold standard for what an army officer should be.

"We all kind of aspired to be like Colin Powell. Be steadfast and loyal, committed, and exude that professionalism that all army officers were trained to be," added Mountcastle. "And so he really did kind of set the standard for army officers in my generation."

Mountcastle said he had a feeling of sadness upon the news.

"Colin Powell was one of those American figures that I, everybody I knew, looked up to. Everybody thought very highly of him, especially those people that had the opportunity to meet him at some point," said Mountcastle. "But, he's just a universally liked and respected individual. And in today's age, that's more and more rare."

Powell's death was also felt by those outside of military circles.

"There was a sense of sadness that came over me. I think it's important, especially as an African-American male, one who served in local politics," said former Charlottesville vice mayor and current chair of the Political Sciences Department at Virginia State University Dr. Wes Bellamy. "General Powell, whether you agree with all of his politics or not, was definitely a role model for African Americans across the country."

Bellamy said he spent the morning talking with his students about his legacy on multiple fronts.

"One, the fact that he was able to aspire and climb to the heights in which he did was beyond impactful. He was able to show Black people and Black folk across the country that we can break down these barriers if we put in the work," said Bellamy, in reference to Powell being the country's first African-American Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "But, then when you look at his record in terms of foreign policy, how he led our nation out into different wars fighting to defend our country -- I think he did a very valiant effort."

Bellamy added Powell also was willing to stand up for his own beliefs and broke from Republicans, under whom he served the majority of his time, including during the last several presidential elections.

"That took a lot of courage to do so," said Bellamy. "Mr. Powell, General Powell, Secretary Powell, of all the titles, I think, again, the one of -- a man of integrity and valor is the one that stands out the most for all of us. Because he was willing to stand up and speak up for what was right, even if it wasn't quite as popular amongst his peers, or people who he may have had a lot of interactions with. And I think that has to be commended."