U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gestures as he addresses the Security Council February 14, 2003 at United Nations headquarters in New York City.
Stephen Chernin | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – Colin Powell, the trailblazing soldier and statesman, has died from Covid complications at the age of 84.
Powell, who served in the military from the early days of the Vietnam era through America’s first war with Iraq, was the nation’s first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of State.
Upon news of his death, leaders and former colleagues hailed him as a leader and a hero. Former President George W. Bush, whom Powell served as secretary of State, praised him as a “great public servant.”
Powell’s death also triggered reminders of one of the darker moments in his otherwise distinguished career.
After four decades in public service as America’s top soldier, diplomat and national security advisor, Powell’s influence in shaping U.S. diplomacy was later marred by his argument for the Iraq War, which started in 2003. Following America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East, Powell admitted his support for combat in Iraq haunted him.
“It has blotted my record, but – you know – there’s nothing I can do to change that blot,” he said in 2011. “All I can say is that I gave it the best analysis that I could.”
Powell’s family announced his death Monday in a Facebook post.
“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the Powell family wrote on Facebook.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family said, noting he was fully vaccinated.
The family thanked the staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where Powell was receiving care.
Powell had multiple myeloma, according to NBC News. It is a type of blood cancer that hurts the body’s ability to fight infections.
Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, became the first Black national security advisor during the Reagan administration.
President George H.W. Bush tapped Powell to be the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As chairman, he oversaw America’s Desert Storm operations during the Persian Gulf war.
After 35 years of military service, Powell retired from the U.S. Army as a four-star general in 1993.
General Colin Powell (C), head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, tours 05 January 1990 the bombed courtyard of the Panaminian Defense Force Comandancia in Panama City to review US troops and receive a briefing on Operation Just Cause, the US invasion of Panama.
Bob Pearson | AFP | Getty Images
In 2001, he became the first Black secretary of State under the younger Bush a transformative appointment from combat soldier to statesman.
As the nation’s top diplomat, Powell faced an unprecedented assignment eight months into the job when 19 militants affiliated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked commercial airliners with the purpose of carrying out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.
On the heels of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Powell supported a swift military response against al-Qaeda.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell answers questions during a briefing 12 September 2001 at the State Department in Washington, DC.
Joyce Naltchayan | AFP | Getty Images
In early 2003, during a 75-minute speech at the United Nations, Powell presented intelligence that claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and also the ambition to produce more. Much of the information turned out to be incorrect.
Powell would later call the United Nations speech, which laid out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq, a “blot” on his distinguished record. In 2016, he called the speech a “great intelligence failure.”
Bush honored Powell in a statement Monday.
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam,” Bush and former first lady Laura Bush wrote in a statement.
“He was such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad,” Bush wrote, adding that “many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Defense secretary during the first Gulf war, also paid tribute to Powell.
“I’m deeply saddened to learn that America has lost a leader and statesman,” Cheney said in a statement. “General Powell had a remarkably distinguished career, and I was fortunate to work with him. He was a man who loved his country and served her long and well.”