Former General Colin Powell, first Black U.S. Secretary of State, dead at 84
Gen. Colin Powell, the trailblazing son of the South Bronx who rose to the highest ranks of the U.S. military, died of complications from COVID-19 despited being fully vaccinated, his family announced Monday.
He was 84.
Powell, who served as the first Black and youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also became the first Black U.S. Secretary of State.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” Powell’s family said in post on Facebook.
Powell became perhaps the most recognizable and popular military figures in the country during his leadership of the military during the first Gulf War under President George H.W. Bush.
He served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush when he led the checkered diplomatic effort to confront Iraq’s Saddam Hussein with claims that he was developing weapons of mass destruction.
There were no immediate details on the exact complications that caused his death or whether and where he had been hospitalized.
Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian Powell, whom he wed in 1962, as well as three children.
The retired statesman becomes the latest of nearly 750,000 Americans to succumb to the COVID pandemic.
Doctors say the vaccines protect the vast majority of Americans from serious illness and death from the virus.
However, so-called “breakthrough infections” like the one that killed Powell remain a serious concern to public health officials, especially with more than 60 million eligible Americans have so far refused to get vaccinated.
Former President George W. Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Attorney General Letitia James called Powell “a proud New Yorker and City College graduate who always put his country first.”
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell was born in Harlem and raised in the South Bronx, where he recalled being a mediocre student. He joined the Army as a teenager and served two tours in Vietnam before rising rapidly through the officer ranks.
Powell was named National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan. He led Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s under the first President Bush, coining the credo of launching military action only with overwhelming force that came to known as the Powell Doctine.
He returned to an even more prominent role as Secretary of State under the George W. Bush as he responded to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Although he retained enormous credibility, Powell’s efforts to build the deeply flawed case for a second war against Iraq left his reputation forever lessened.
He infamously told the United Nations that Saddam Hussein posed grave threats to the world by developing weapons of mass destruction, claims that were used to launch the war that toppled the Iraqi strongman and led to the disastrous American occupation.
The claims turned out to be false, and Powell later admitted that the entire incident amounted to a “blot” on his record.
A lifelong Republican, Powell’s name was floated as a potential GOP presidential candidate as early as 2000.
He never ran for office and became deeply disaffected from the Republican Party in recent years, endorsing Barack Obama for election in 2008 and his reelection four years later. He was deeply opposed to former President Trump and backed both Hillary Clinton in 2016 and President Biden in 2020.