Colin Powell was his own man: A political centrist, social liberal, and traditional patriot

America lost a true patriot today as former Secretary of State and 4-star general Colin Powell has passed away at the age of 84.

After the famous war hero and national icon died Monday morning at Walter Reed National Medical Center, his family released a statement on Facebook, saying

“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. He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American. The Powell Family”

Powell’s Historic Military Record

Perhaps best known for breaking barriers as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, Powell helped shape defense and foreign policy during key moments of global tension and conflict during both the 20th and 21st centuries, including the collapse of Soviet communism; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the 1991 Gulf War; various crises in Somalia, Bosnia, Panama, and other hot spots; the 9/11 Terror Attacks; and the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was also a highly decorated combat soldier. During his first tour in the Vietnam War, he survived a wound from a punji stick booby trap, earning a Purple Heart. He also earned a Bronze Star. During his second tour, Powell survived a helicopter crash and rescued three other soldiers from the wreck, receiving a decoration for bravery on his return from Vietnam. 

Powell was a lifelong soldier and it was part of his character. For example, Powell’s parents pronounced his name with a short “o” but he changed it in order to honor US Army Air Corps pilot, Colin Kelly, who was killed shortly after Pearl Harbor.

Powell served in the U.S. Army for 35 years in Vietnam, South Korea, and West Germany, ultimately rising to the rank of 4-star general. From October 1989 to September 30, 1993, he served as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense, where he oversaw Operation Desert Storm.

In 2001, Powell was sworn in as Secretary of State, serving in the George W. Bush administration. In 2003, he told the United Nations that U.S. intelligence believed Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction. Support was garnered for the invasion of Iraq, but no such weapons were found. Powell resigned soon after announcing that the intelligence was likely wrong.

A Social Progressive

Politically, Powell was a centrist and socially, he was a liberal. Powell supported Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden despite considering himself to be a Republican for most of his life. After the January 6 riot at the Capitol, Powell called on President Trump to resign, claimed that Republicans incited violence, and stated he no longer considered himself a Republican. 

His passing garnered numerous condolences and statements of admiration from political leaders, past and present.

In a statement, President Biden said

“Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity, General Colin Powell…. Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity. From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong. Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else—in uniform and out—and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.”

Former President George W. Bush said, “He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was National Security Adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my Administration.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, 

It is hard to imagine a more quintessentially American story. A son of Jamaican immigrants who learned Yiddish from his boyhood neighbors in the Bronx becomes a four-star General in the United States Army and serves four presidential administrations, including as National Security Advisor, the youngest-ever Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first Black Secretary of State.”

In honor of his distinguished life, accomplishments, and years of national service, Powell was awarded two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President’s Citizens Medal, and the Congressional Gold Medal.