WASHINGTON (AP) – Friends, family and former coworkers honor Colin L. Powell, the widely lauded military diplomat who rose from humble beginnings in the Bronx to become the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later served as the state’s first black secretary.
Powell will be remembered at a funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Friday. President Joe Biden is expected to attend but is not expected to speak. Lauders are said to be Madeleine Albright, who was the best diplomat in the nation before Powell; Richard Armitage, who was Powell’s assistant secretary and had known him since they served together at the Pentagon during the Reagan administration; and Powell’s son Michael.
Powell died on October 18 of complications from COVID-19 at the age of 84. He had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but his family said his immune system had been compromised from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer for which he had been treated.
The story of Powell’s rise to prominence in American life is a historical example for many.
In his autobiography, “My American Journey,” Powell recalled a post-Depression childhood in the Hunts Point neighborhood of New York’s South Bronx, where he was a mediocre student – happy but aimless.
During his first year at the City College of New York in 1954, he was infected with the military virus. Powell took inspiration from seeing fellow students in uniform and enrolled in the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“I felt distinctive” in uniform, he wrote. He would go on to earn awards in a landmark army career.
Although he was only 4 when the United States entered World War II, he had vivid memories of the war years. “I deployed legions of commanders and directed battles on the living room carpet,” he wrote – a fantastic forerunner to his army years.
Powell would serve in uniform for 35 years. Commissioned as a lieutenant in 1958, he served as a platoon leader in what was then West Germany and was sent to Vietnam for a year in 1962 as an advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion. During this tour he was wounded; In 1968 he completed a second tour in Vietnam and then had various assignments at home and abroad.
He excelled in the Pentagon even before he reached the rank of flag officer. At the end of the 1970s he worked in the office of the Minister of Defense and in 1983, as Brigadier General, he became Chief Military Assistant to Defense Minister Caspar Weinberger. He later served in the White House as national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan and was promoted to four-star general in 1989. Later that year, President George HW Bush elected him chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
“He was such a presidential darling that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice,” said former President George W. Bush when Powell’s death was announced.
It was a groundbreaking American dream trip that earned him international recognition and trust.
He jeopardized this credibility in February 2003 when, as Foreign Minister, he pleaded for a war against Iraq. When the intelligence services he cited were found to be flawed and the Iraq war turned into a bloody, chaotic nightmare, Powell’s outstanding reputation was damaged.
Even so, it was not destroyed. After retiring from government, he became an elder statesman on the global scene and the founder of an organization dedicated to helping young disadvantaged Americans. The Republicans wanted him to run for president. After becoming disaffected with his party, he eventually backed the last three Democratic presidential candidates, who welcomed his support.
Powell’s influence was felt at the highest levels of the US defense establishment long after his retirement from public life. Lloyd Austin, who became the first black defense secretary in January, called Powell a friend and professional mentor. Like Powell, Austin rose through the ranks of the Army to become a four-star general.
On the day of Powell’s death, Austin called him “one of the greatest leaders we have ever seen”.
Powell was among several prominent national security leaders who died that year, including George Shultz, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet and was Secretary of State under President George HW Bush; and Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was twice Secretary of Defense. Just weeks before Powell’s death, a former US Forces commander in Iraq, Army General Raymond Odierno, died of cancer.
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