WASHINGTON – Colin Powell, a US war hero and the first Black secretary of state, has died from complications from COVID-19, his family said yesterday. He was 84.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family said in a statement posted to social media.
The retired four-star general and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served four presidents made his reputation as a man of honor distant from the political fray – an asset in the corridors of power.
“General Powell is an American hero, an American example, and a great American story,” George W. Bush said as he announced Powell’s nomination as secretary of state in 2000.
“In directness of speech, his towering integrity, his deep respect for our democracy, and his soldier’s sense of duty and honor, Colin Powell demonstrates… qualities that will make him a great representative of all the people of this country.”
Born April 5, 1937 in Harlem, Powell’s “American Journey” – the title of his autobiography – started in New York, where he grew up and earned a degree in geology.
He also participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college, and upon his graduation in June 1958, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army, and was posted in what was then West Germany.
Powell completed two tours of duty in Vietnam – in 1962-63 as one of John F Kennedy’s thousands of military advisors, and again in 1968-69 to investigate the My Lai massacre.
He earned a Purple Heart, but also faced questions about the tone of his report into the hundreds of deaths at My Lai, which to some seemed to dismiss any claims of wrongdoing.
“I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened,” he told interviewer Larry King in 2004.
He quickly rose through the ranks to the pinnacle of the national security establishment, serving Ronald Reagan as national security advisor, and both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 1989-93.
Powell earned a number of civilian honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice from Bush Senior and Clinton.
He married his wife Alma in 1962. They had three children: Michael, Linda and Annemarie.