JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People from across the country have been remembering the life of Colin Powell, a Vietnam War veteran who rose to the rank of four-star general and became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then secretary of state.
Powell died Monday of COVID-19 complications at age 84.
News4Jax spoke with retired Adm. Robert Natter, who makes Jacksonville his home. Natter has seen and worked with many people during his long career with the Navy. He worked under Powell during the first Gulf War conflict in the early 1990s.
“We were together all through Desert Shield and Desert Storm. And then when he became secretary of state, I continued a relationship with him over there,” said Natter, who was in Germany, visiting family, on Monday and spoke with News4Jax by Zoom.
Natter said that for him and many others, the news of Powell’s death came as a surprise.
“I was not aware he was ill because I think the family is private. His wife, Alma, is private, I know that for a fact,” Natter said.
Natter said he and Powell worked together many times over the years.
“I think so. He had a lot of friends. I would not say I was his close friend because I was so junior compared to him, but he and I had some good discussions and some fun discussions,” Natter said.
Natter said Powell was very even-keeled and that came out in the tense times of the Gulf War and as secretary of state.
“He was very, very pro-State Department, and the whole process of national security — which did not end with just the Defense Department and certainly bled over into the State Department as the first and foremost means of defending this country,” Natter said.
Powell’s inspirational talks brought him to Jacksonville in 2009 when he appeared with a number of motivational speakers at the arena.
In announcing Powell’s death, his family said he had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Peggy Cifrino, Powell’s longtime aide, said he had also been treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infection. Studies have shown that those cancer patients don’t get as much protection from the COVID-19 vaccines as healthier people.