A Salute to Gen. Colin Powell (1937-2021)

We salute a truly great American, Gen. Colin Powell (1937-2021) who died today at age 84, due to Covid-19 complications (though fully vaccinated) and having suffered multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer which weakens the immune system, according to family members. 

President Joe Biden echoed praise today for Gen. Powell in a statement, declaring him “a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity” who “embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat.”

During his four decades of public service, Powell played a major role on the world stage, in the nation’s capital and in American and world history.

Powell  “was a pathbreaker, serving as the country’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state,” according to the New York Times. Powell was “described frequently as the most popular American general since Dwight Eisenhower,” Politico wrote.

Powell served for 35 years in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, often suffering discrimination yet blazing the path of racial achievement along the way while rising eventually to become a four-star general.

“His was a classic American success story,” the Times reported. “Born in Harlem of Jamaican parents, he grew up in the South Bronx and graduated from City College of New York, joining the Army through the R.O.T.C. Starting as a young second lieutenant commissioned in the dawn of a newly desegregated Army, Mr. Powell served two decorated combat tours in Vietnam. He was later national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan at the end of the Cold War, helping to negotiate arms treaties and an era of cooperation with the Soviet president, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.”

“Once retired, Mr. Powell, a lifelong independent while in uniform, was courted as a presidential contender by both Republicans and Democrats…. He wrote a best-selling memoir, ‘My American Journey,’ and flirted with a run for the presidency before deciding in 1995 that campaigning for office wasn’t for him.”

In 2001, Powell returned to public service to become secretary of state to President George W. Bush “whose father Mr. Powell had served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs a decade earlier,” the Times wrote.  

“Gen. Powell is an American hero, an American example and a great American story,” President-elect George W. Bush said in selecting him to lead the State Department in December 2000, according to Politico. “It’s a great day when a son of the South Bronx succeeds to the office first held by Thomas Jefferson,” Bush said. “I would say of Gen. Powell what Harry Truman said of Gen. [George] Marshall: He is a tower of strength and common sense.”

During his tenure as Secretary of State, Powell developed what became known as the Powell Doctrine calling for clear objectives, public support and the use of decisive and overwhelming force to prevent a repeat of the mistakes of the Vietnam era.

Though Powell was involved in controversial decisions involving support for the 2003 Iraq War — his speech to the UN Security Council on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was later debunked for relying on forged documents — his overall reputation for sound judgment and moderation withstood the challenge over the years. In 2002, Powell polled as the nation’s most popular political figure. 

Former president Barrack Obama, the nation’s first Black commander-in-chief, had this to say about Powell: “General Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot. He was at the center of some of the most consequential events of our lifetimes…. And although he’d be the first to acknowledge that he didn’t get every call right, his actions reflected what he believed was best for America and the people he served.”

“Along the way, General Powell helped a generation of young people set their sights higher,” Obama said. “He never denied the role that race played in his own life and in our society more broadly. But he also refused to accept that race would limit his dreams, and through his steady and principled leadership, helped pave the way for so many who would follow.”

Powell’s book “My American Journey” rose to the number one spot on the New York Times Bestsellers List. In 1997, he founded America’s Promise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping at-risk children. He later served as the chairman of the board of visitors of the School for Civic and Global Leadership, named for him at the City University of New York.

Over the course of his career of public service Powell garnered numerous civilian awards, including two Presidential Medals of Freedom (the second with distinction). During his military service he earned several battle awards including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in addition to a multitude of higher distinguished service medals.

“Let others judge me,” Mr. Powell said in a  2007 New York Times interview. “All I want to do is judge myself as a successful soldier who served his best.”




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