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Colin Powell paid a quiet visit to Rochester's Veterans Memorial in 2007

Powell was a very down-to-earth, cordial guy, Rochester veterans say.

Colin Powell in Rochester.jpg
Colin Powell visiting the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial with Rochester veterans Wayne Stillman and Harry Kerr. Contributed / Jane Belau

Colin Powell rose to the highest ranks of government and the military, but he was first and foremost a soldier whose kinship with other veterans was demonstrated during a visit to Rochester's Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial in 2007.

Powell was in Rochester to give a talk to Mayo Clinic employees that was closed to the public. After the lecture, Powell paid what was supposed to be a short visit to the Veterans Memorial. Powell was greeted by, among others, Wayne Stillman and Harry Kerr, two of the memorials' founding members and veterans.

"It was supposed to be a 15-minute, little tour," Kerr said. "And it was just him and the driver. And what I remember was that he was shorter than I thought he would be. He got out, came over and shook my hand."

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It was clear that Powell had done some research on his Rochester hosts, because he proceeded to give Kerr, a Vietnam veteran with the 7th Marines, a litany of Kerr's military career. Powell had served two combat tours in Vietnam in the Army.

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Kerr told Powell about the memorial, and they ended up standing before the map of Vietnam on the memorial's north side.

Highly decorated for his military service, Powell became the country's first Black Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, White House national security advisor and secretary of state, but in manner, he was "very down to earth," Kerr said.

By the time of his visit, Powell was no longer in government and was a private citizen.

"We talked about some of the same ground that we both had covered (in Vietnam): two old war dogs talking about places they've been," Kerr said. "He was very cordial, a very nice guy. He met every expectation I had about who he was."

Powell, who had suffered from blood cancer and Parkinson's disease, died from COVID-related complications at the age of 84 on Monday, Oct. 18.

At one point during the 2007 visit, Powell's driver began insistently reminding the former general that they had to get going, but Powell kept deferring the departure. The tour lasted almost an hour, Kerr said.

"I remember the last time the driver said, 'general, we need to leave.' And he quips back, 'that private plane's not going anywhere without me on board,'" Kerr remembered.

As he was finally preparing to leave, Powell said, "It is amazing to see a memorial of this magnitude in a city of this size," Stillman recalled.

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Kerr said he recently watched an interview of Powell in which he talked about his reasons for not running for president. At one point in his career, Powell was considered a presidential candidate, his popularity was so high. But after a couple of weeks of pondering the matter, he woke up, sat down for breakfast and told his wife, "I'm a soldier, not a politician."

Stillman said Powell's departing words at the memorial left an indelible memory. As he was almost physically dragged into the car's backseat, Powell reached out to Stillman.

"He said, 'Wayne, if you ever need anything, just give me a call,'" Stillman said. "I should have asked for his business card or something, but I didn't. And the car took off."

Related Topics: PEOPLEROCHESTER
Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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