Thursday, December 2, 2021

WATCH: Family and friends gather to honor pioneer Colin Powell.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Friends, family, and former colleagues gathered Friday at Washington National Cathedral to honor Colin L. Powell, a pioneering soldier-diplomat who grew out of the humble Bronx to become the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later served as the first black secretary of state.

The funeral on a sunny and cool day brought together dignitaries and friends from a wide variety of political and military circles. These included former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, former Secretary of State James Baker, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General of the Army Mark Milli, and other chiefs of services.

WATCH: Colin Powell’s Funeral at Washington National Cathedral

As guests gathered in the huge cathedral, where the funerals of several past presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, were held, the US Army brass quintet played a series of tunes, including “The Dancing Queen” by Abba, Powell’s favorite. As Powell’s wife, Alma, and the rest of the family sat down, the quintet sang a hymn called “The Mansions of the Lord.”

President Joe Biden was present, but no intervention was scheduled. Two recent presidents were not present – Bill Clinton, recovering from infection, and Donald Trump, who was criticized by Powell.

The Eulogists were Madeleine Albright, who was Powell’s immediate predecessor as the country’s chief diplomat; Richard Armitage, who was Powell’s deputy secretary and had known him since they served together in the Pentagon under the Reagan administration; and Powell’s son Michael.

During her tenure as ambassador to the United Nations under the Clinton administration, Albright occasionally clashed with Powell, although they became good friends. Both recalled how, in his final months as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she advocated US military intervention in the Balkans, asking why the United States had built an excellent army if it could not be used in the circumstances. Powell recalled how annoyed she was when she said, “I thought I was going to have an aneurysm.”

Powell argues that the United States should only use its military when it has a clear and achievable political goal, a key element of what became known as the Powell Doctrine, which embodied the lessons learned from the US defeat in Vietnam.

Powell died on October 18 from complications from COVID-19 at the age of 84. He was vaccinated against the coronavirus, but his family said his immune system was compromised by multiple myeloma, a blood cancer for which he was being treated.

Those attending the Friday funeral were required to wear masks, though not everyone.

Powell’s success story in American life is a historical example for many.

In his autobiography, My American Journey, Powell recalled childhood after the depression in the Hunts Point area of ​​the South Bronx, New York, where he was a mediocre student – careless but aimless.

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He caught a military mistake during his freshman year at City College of New York in 1954. Powell was inspired by the fact that he saw fellow students in uniform, and he entered the training corps of reserve officers.

“I felt special” in uniform, he wrote. He achieved distinction in a pioneering military career.

Although he was only 4 years old when the United States entered World War II, he had vivid memories of the war years. “I deployed legions of leading soldiers and led the battles on the living room rug,” he wrote – a fantastic harbinger of his army years.

Powell will serve in military uniform for 35 years. Appointed as a junior lieutenant in 1958, he served as a platoon leader in what was then called West Germany, and in 1962 he was sent to Vietnam for a year as an advisor to the South Vietnamese infantry battalion. During that trip, he was injured; he went on a second tour to Vietnam in 1968 and then did various errands at home and abroad.

He distinguished himself at the Pentagon even before he was promoted to flagship officer. In the late 1970s, he worked in the office of the Minister of Defense, and in 1983, as a brigadier general, became the senior military assistant to the Minister of Defense, Kaspar Weinberger. He later worked in the White House as National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan, and in 1989 was promoted to a four-star general. Later that year, President George W. Bush elected him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“He was such a darling of presidents that he won the presidential medal of freedom twice,” former President George W. Bush said when Powell’s death was announced.

It was the pioneering journey of the American Dream that earned him international recognition and trust.

He put that trust at stake in February 2003 when, as Secretary of State at the United Nations, he argued for a war against Iraq. When it turned out that the information he gave was incorrect, and the war in Iraq turned into a bloody chaotic nightmare, Powell’s stellar reputation was undermined.

However, it was not destroyed. After leaving government, he became an elderly statesman on the world stage and the founder of an organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged young Americans. The Republicans wanted him to run for president. Disillusioned with his party, he ended up supporting the last three Democratic presidential candidates who hailed his support.

Powell’s influence was felt at the highest levels of the US defense establishment long after he retired from public life. Lloyd Austin, who became the first black secretary of defense in January, called Powell a friend and professional mentor. Like Powell, Austin rose through the ranks to become a four-star general.

On the day of Powell’s death, Austin called him “one of the greatest leaders we have ever seen.”

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