General Colin L. Powell, the first Black US Secretary of State and former military leader, died Monday morning due to complications from COVID-19, according to a post on his official Facebook page. He was 84.
Powell’s family said he was fully vaccinated.
“We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment,” the Facebook post said. “We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”
In 1989, Powell became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he oversaw the U.S. invasion of Panama and later the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
But his reputation suffered a painful setback when, in 2003, Powell went before the U.N. Security Council and made the case for U.S. war against Iraq. He cited faulty information claiming Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed away weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s claims that it had not represented “a web of lies,” he told the world body.
Former President George W. Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “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.”
Powell rose from a childhood in a fraying New York neighborhood to become the nation’s chief diplomat. “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx,” he wrote in his 1995 autobiography “My American Journey.”
At City College, Powell discovered the ROTC. When he put on his first uniform, “I liked what I saw,” he wrote.
He joined the Army and in 1962 he was one of more than 16,000 “advisers” sent to South Vietnam by President John F. Kennedy. A series of promotions led to the Pentagon and assignment as a military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who became his unofficial sponsor. He later became commander of the Army’s 5h Corps in Germany and later was national security assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
Powell’s appearances at the United Nations as secretary of state, including his Iraq speech, were often accompanied by fond reminiscing of his childhood in the city, where he grew up the child of Jamaican immigrants who got one of his first jobs at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant directly across the East River from the UN headquarters.
A fan of calypso music, Powell was the subject of criticism from, among others, singing legend Harry Belafonte, who likened Powell to a “house slave” for going along with the decision to invade Iraq. Powell declined to get into a public spat with Belafonte, but made it known that he was not a fan and much preferred the Trinidadian calypso star the “Mighty Sparrow.”
Powell maintained, in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, that on balance, U.S. succeeded in Iraq.
“I think we had a lot of successes,” Powell said. “Iraq’s terrible dictator is gone.”
Saddam was captured by U.S. forces while hiding out in northern Iraq in December 2003 and later executed by the Iraqi government. But the insurgency grew, and the war dragged on far longer than had been foreseen. President Barack Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011, but he sent advisers back in 2014 after the Islamic State group swept into the country from Syria and captured large swaths of Iraqi territory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.