Four-star Gen. Colin Powell, the former Republican secretary of state who later endorsed Democratic contenders Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden for the office of president, died early Monday after battling COVID-19. The 84-year-old had previously been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that works against the body's ability to fight infections.
In a statement on Facebook, his family wrote, "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."
Dying of COVID-19 in spite of being fully vaccinated is thought to be rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 6,617 fully vaccinated U.S. citizens have died of breakthrough COVID infections, just .006% of the 185 million who are vaccinated. Of those who died, 86% were 65 or older and 56% were male.
Powell, born April 5, 1937, in NYC to parents who had immigrated from Jamaica, he grew up in the Bronx and began his military career just 10 years after it was desegregated.
Powell served two tours in Vietnam, for which he was decorated, and was later Ronald Reagan's national security advisor. In that position, he was instrumental in the treaties the U.S. undertook with the Soviets to end the Cold War.
Powell became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retained the position thought the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. He retired from the military in 1993, his popularity so high that he was consistently discussed as a potential presidential contender. In 2016, though he was not running, he still received three electoral college votes from Washington.
In 1995, Powell published his autobiography, "My American Journey," going on to become a highly sought-after speaker.
Powell served as secretary of state under George W. Bush, placing him in a position of great power and great conflict when the 9/11 attacks upended world politics. In an infamous 2003 speech at the United Nations, Powell sought to justify the war. He later conceded that speech had been a "blot" on his career.
As the unpopular Iraq War unfolded, he left the Bush Administration after its first term, having made history as the first Black secretary of state, in line with a career of trailblazing.
For his career achievements, Powell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice.
Powell is remembered as the most openly political — and most popular — general of his generation. Independent while in uniform, he was an outspoken moderate Republican for much of his career, though he endorsed Democrats for president beginning in 2008. He backed Barack Obama twice during Obama's history-making runs for president, Hillary Clinton in her failed run against Donald Trump, and Joe Biden in his successful 2020 bid to defeat Trump. In response to the January 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol, Powell announced he was again an Independent.
Powell is survived by his wife of 59 years, Alma, their son Michael, and their daughters Linda and Annemarie.