Michael Powell, son of Gen. Colin Powell, said his father "was a great leader because he was a great follower. He knew you could not ask your troops to do anything you were unwilling to do yourself."
His emotional remembrance at the funeral of the first Black Secretary of State, remarked on his lengthy service to America as mourners paid tribute on Friday (Nov .5) honoring the 35-year military veteran, four star U.S. Army general and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who died Oct. 18 after battling COVID-19 complications at age 84.
President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden attended the services at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. along with former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, and former President and First Lady George W. and Laura Bush were also in attendance, as well as a number of military and political leaders, CBS News reports. Former President Bill Clinton, who is dealing with health issues, was not at the services, but Hillary Clinton, herself a former Secretary of State was there.
Powell, a Bronx, N.Y., native rose in the ranks in the American military to shape foreign U.S. foreign policy over the course of the ‘80s and ‘90s, serving under several presidents including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as leading the effort behind Operation Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
He served two tours of duty, first in 1962 as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army, when he was wounded. He returned in 1968 as assistant chief of staff of operations for the 23rd Infantry Division. He went on to become National Security Advisor under Reagan while still serving as lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, while also sitting on the National Security Council. The first president Bush selected him as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first African American to hold the position.
But Powell is perhaps best known for his roles in the decision making during the military operation in the Persian Gulf when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. forces invaded Kuwait in efforts to thwart the Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein. The second President Bush and then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered Powell and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to launch Operation Desert Storm, building a coalition including Great Britain, France, Italy, Syria and Italy to liberate Kuwait.
However, Powell is also known for his roles in the decision to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He had been selected as U.S. Secretary of State by Bush after his win in the 2000 election, again the first African American to be chosen to serve in the position.
Powell warned the president that creating a democratic nation would be difficult, but he went to the United Nations in 2003, making the case for a new invasion of Iraq to search for “weapons of mass destruction.” Inspectors never found any such weapons, but Congress authorized the use of military force in both Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in 2003, which ultimately led to America’s longest war, ending only this year.
Powell later expressed regret for his part in what became regarded as a reckless rush into a costly war for America. In his memoir It Worked For Me, Lessons In Life and Leadership, he said that he did not realize at the time that much of the evidence of the supposed weapons was wrong.
“I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem,” Powell wrote. “My instincts failed me.”
Powell is survived by his wife Alma; his son Michael, who was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2001 to 2005; and two daughters, Linda and Annemarie.
In his final remarks, Michael Powell said to those in attendance, "I've heard it asked, 'are we still making his kind?' I believe the answer to that question is up to us.
"To honor his legacy," he continued," I hope we do more than consign him to the history books. I hope we recommit ourselves to being a nation where we are still making his kind."
Watch the full memorial service for Gen. Colin Powell below: