General Colin Powell, the first African American secretary of state, has died from complications from Covid-19 amidst a battle with blood cancer.
Powell was 84 and was fully vaccinated, his family confirmed.
"We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment," the family said in a Facebook post. "We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American."
Powell, born to Jamaican immigrants in Harlem, N.Y., had a long, decorated history of public service to the United States. It began with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at City College of New York where he got his first taste of military life. After graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, married Alma Vivian Johnson and had three children.
After two tours in Vietnam during which he was injured, Powell received many awards, including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Soldiers’ Medal, and the Legion of Merit.
Powell served in many capacities under six different presidents during his lifetime. After graduating with his MBA from Georgetown University, he was appointed to the White House Fellowship under President Richard Nixon, where he was assigned to the Office of Management and Budget.
From there, he moved to the Pentagon to serve under President Jimmy Carter as assistant to the deputy secretary of defense. Then from 1987 to 1989, Powell served as the national security adviser in President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
During the time of the Gulf War, Powell had attained the rank of four-star general and became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense, under President George H. W. Bush and into President Bill Clinton’s administration as well.
Most notably, Powell served in George W. Bush’s administration as secretary of state from 2002-2005. Powell made a speech to the U.N. Security Council in 2003 that confirmed George W. Bush’s position that Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction were an imminent danger to the United States. This led to the invasion of Iraq. He resigned in 2005 after Bush was re-elected.
He later admitted it was a mistake and much of the intelligence provided by others had been twisted to make the case to go to war. Powell told Barbara Walters of ABC News that his speech to the U.N. was “painful” for him personally and would forever be a “blot” on his record. “I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world,” Powell said, acknowledging that his speech “will always be a part of my record.”
Powell was a lifelong Republican who held top positions in several Republican cabinets, but later became disenchanted with Republicans and therefore crossed party lines to support many Democrats in their presidential bids. This included Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. He became an Independent in early 2021.
Powell ventured into public speaking following several decades of military and government service and publicly voiced his political opinions over the years.
According to his aide, Peggy Cifrino, Powell had been fighting blood cancer for many years. This likely weakened his immune system, though it is unknown when he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
President Joe Biden ordered the flags to fly at half-staff following the news. In a statement, Biden said, “...I am forever grateful for his support of my candidacy for president and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation. I will miss being able to call on his wisdom in the future."