Powell, a retired four-star general who served as Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005 under George W. Bush, had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
In a statement announcing his death, his family called him a “remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” and thanked medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center, where he was being treated.
Before embarking on an influential career in politics, the New Yorker was a soldier for more than 30 years.
Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the most senior military officer in the U.S. Armed Forces—between late 1989 and 1993, overseeing the U.S. invasions of Panama and Kuwait, as well as Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. He was also a key player in the build up to that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The decorated service member leaves behind wife Alma, son Michael, daughters Linda and Annemarie.
Former president Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death. Bush said he was “a great public servant” and was “widely respected at home and abroad.”
“And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man,” Bush added in a statement.
Powell was a trailblazing soldier who in 1968, returned from the Vietnam War and received a decoration for bravery after surviving a helicopter crash in which he rescued three other troops from the burning wreckage.
But Powell was also seen as a controversial figure. He was tasked to investigate the U.S. massacre at My Lai in the Vietnam War and found no wrongdoing. He was later accused of “whitewashing” the massacre, details of which did not fully surface publicly until 1970.
His legacy was further tarnished in 2003, when he told the U.N. Security Council faulty information about the war. He claimed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had secretly kept weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s claims that it had no weapons of mass destruction represented a “web of lies,” Powell told the council. Those weapons were never found.
Powell, who had been a Republican for almost all of his political life, later became disillusioned with many in the GOP and instead threw his weight behind Democrats. Perhaps the most well-known was Barack Obama, the first Black president who Powell endorsed in the final month of his 2008 campaign for the White House.
On January 10, Powell said he no longer considered himself “a fellow Republican, days after he called on then-president Donald Trump to resign over the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C, four days earlier.
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