Colin Powell, Retired Army General, the first Black man to serve as chairman of Joint Chief of Staff and as Secretary of State, has died due to complications of COVID-19 at the age of 84.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather, and a great American,” Powell’s family said in a statement.
They treated him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he passed. There, Mr. Powell was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which compromised his immune system.
“I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor figure. He’d been my mentor and friend for a number of years who always made time for me,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement on Monday. “I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.”
Colin Powell’s Impact And Legacy
Powell is a classic American success story. He was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants and raised in the South Bronx. He graduated from City College of New York and joined the Army through ROTC. The newly desegregated Army commissioned him as a second lieutenant. He served two decorated combat tours in Vietnam.
Throughout his lifetime, Colin Powell was a barrier breaker. His most prominent achievements were serving as the country’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State.
His career began in his 35 years in the Army. He is an indicative example of how minorities can use the military as a stepping stone towards success.
Rising up, he later became a national security adviser to President Ronald Regan at the end of the Cold War. He assisted in negotiations for arms treaties and brought in an era of cooperation with then-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.
Former President Bush called Powell a “great man” and said he and the former first lady are deeply saddened by his death.
“Many presidents relied on Gen. Powell’s counsel and experience … He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice,” Bush said. “He was highly respected at home and abroad.”
Colin Powell was born on April 5, 1937, and was raised in the ethnically mixed section of the South Bronx. His father, Luther Powell, was a shipping-room foreman. His mother, Maud Ariel McKoy, was a seamstress. Both his parents were Jamaican immigrants.
Young Colin Powell graduated from Bronx’s Morris High School. He was an ordinary student, carrying a C average at City College of New York as a geology major.
A turning point came when he joined the college’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program, drawn by camaraderie, discipline, and well-defined goals. Cadet Powell joined the Pershing Rifles, a drill team started by Gen. John J. Pershing, a top American commander in World War I. Mr. Powell kept a pen set he had won for a drill-team competition on his desk throughout his years of service.
During a summer ROTC training tour in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1957, he was forced to use segregated washrooms at gas stations in the South on the drive home to New York. After graduating from City College in June 1958, he started his 35-year military career.
The Start Of His 35 Year Military Career
Powell experienced the segregated South during basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, at the start of his career. After he finished training, he shipped out to Europe to become a platoon leader in West Germany in the Cold War.
On Christmas Day 1962, Mr. Powell arrived in Saigon for a one-year tour as an adviser to a 400-man South Vietnamese army battalion in the jungle. He completed the tour “a true believer” in the American cause, he later said. However, the first notions of skepticism toward the war were showing through.
Next, in July 1968, he did a second tour in Vietnam, serving as executive officer of an infantry battalion, then a division operations officer. He avoided death when his helicopter crashed four months later. He dragged his commander out of the wreck, suffering a broken ankle.
Mr. Powell rose quickly through the ranks: a battalion command in Korea in 1973, a brigade command in the elite 101st Airborne Division in 1976. His peers considered him a “water walker,” a term reserved for the most talented officers.
In 1979, Mr. Powell was promoted to a one-star general, the youngest general officer in the Army. Then, after serving as the Defense Secretary senior military assistant, Mr. Powell went off to command V Corps in 1986. He skipped division command altogether in leading 75,000 soldiers in West Germany in the years of the Cold War.
Five months later, President Reagan summoned him to Washington to be a national security adviser. He played a crucial role in helping enter a new era of cooperation with the then Soviet Union.
In 1989, Mr. Powell left the White House to lead the Army’s Forces Command. He was promoted to a four-star general in Army, becoming the fourth Black four-start general in history.
He saw himself not only as an inspiration for Black soldiers but as a clash to bigotry.
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