The retired general served under four US presidents
Colin Powell, the first Black secretary of state, died on Monday of Covid-19 complications. He was 84.
The retired four-star general and former head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who served four presidents made his reputation as a man of honor distant from the political fray.
Powel was the son of Jamaican immigrants who became a US war hero but his legacy was later tarnished when he made the case for war in Iraq in 2003.
But he found it hard to live down his infamous February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“It’s a blot … and will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now,” Powell said in a 2005 interview with ABC News.
Born on 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 or 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.
At one point in time, he even considered to run for the presidency. But after retiring from the army in 1993, Powell devoted himself to working for the disadvantaged young people as the chairperson of America’s Promise, a youth advocacy group.
For a while, he rejected offers for public office, until Bush came calling for the popular military man to lead the State Department as the 65th secretary of state.
A Republican by heart, but he endorsed Democrats for the presidency, twice backing Barack Obama, and then Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
“You can be a Republican and still feel strongly about issues such as immigration and improving our education system and doing something about some of the social problems that exist in our society and our country.”
Powell also earned a number of civilian honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice from Bush Senior and Bill Clinton. He married his wife Alma in 1962. They had three children.