Colin Powell: A timeline of his life in the military and U.S. leadership

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Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell pays his respects as the remains of former US President George H. W. Bush lie in state at the US Capitol rotunda December 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. – The body of the late former President George H.W. Bush travelled from Houston to Washington, where he will lie in state at the US Capitol through Wednesday morning. Bush, who died on November 30, will return to Houston for his funeral on Thursday. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

(ABC4) – A lifelong military leader who found favor with both the Republican and Democratic Party at various points in his life, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell passed away at age 84 on Monday due to complications from COVID-19.

Powell’s legacy is marked by his decades of service in the military, rising from college ROTC member to the highest military offices in the nation. He will also likely be remembered for a major miscue during his time as the Secretary of State to George W. Bush, an error that plagued his record and led to shifting feelings towards the Republican Party for the rest of his public life.

Here is a look at the timeline of Colin Powell’s life:

April 5, 1937: Colin Luther Powell is born in New York City

Powell was born in the Harlem borough of New York City to Luther, a shipping clerk, and Maud Ariel (McKoy) Powell, a seamstress. Both of his parents were immigrants from Jamaica.

1954: Powell graduates from Morris High School.

While a student, Powell worked at a baby furniture store and learned to speak Yiddish from the Jewish shopkeepers.

1958: Powell graduates from the City College of New York, is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.

Despite earning average grades on his way to a degree in Geology, Powell was a star member of the school’s ROTC, earning the corps’ top rank, cadet colonel. Following graduation, he is sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training, then assigned as a platoon leader in West Germany.

1962: Powell serves his first tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

While working as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army, Powell was wounded by a Viet Cong booby trap by stepping on a sharpened, buried piece of bamboo. The injury resulted in a large infection, ending his first tour in Vietnam.

1968: Powell returns to Vietnam for a second tour of duty.

Back in Vietnam, Powell was serving as assistant chief of staff of operations when again, he is injured in duty. This time, his injury occurs while surviving a helicopter crash and pulling two other soldiers from the wreckage. He was honored with decorations for his bravery.

1971: Powell earns his Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University. At this point in his military career, he holds the rank of lieutenant colonel.

1972: Powell begins a White House Fellowship under the Nixon administration.

1979: Powell serves as executive assistant to Secretary of Energy Charles Duncan, later that year he also is named the senior military assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

1983: Powell is named the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

1987: President Ronald Reagan names Powell his National Security Advisor.

President Reagan holds a National Security Council meeting on the Persian Gulf with National Security Advisor Colin Powell in the Oval Office (White House Photographs)

1989: Powell is named the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense.

In reaching his office, he became the youngest Chairman ever, as well as the first of Afro-Caribbean American heritage. He also was the first former member of an ROTC to hold this position.

1991: Powell takes charge of the operations in the Middle East during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf (L), Commander of the US Forces in Saudi Arabia, talks with US General Colin Powell.
(Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images)

1993: Powell retires from the military after 35 years of service, having ascended to the rank of general.

1997: The Colin Powell Center of Policy Studies is founded at his alma mater, City College of New York.

2000: Powell endorses the presidential campaign for George W. Bush and gives the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention.

2001: Powell is appointed, confirmed, and sworn in as the Secretary of State.

2003: Powell gives an address to the United Nations Security Council in February to make the case for the United States’ actions against Iraq, claiming that its leader, Saddam Hussein, was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

These claims were later proven to be false. Admitting that he had received poor intelligence before his speech, Powell would later refer to his address as a “blot” on his record, calling it “painful.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell delivers his address to the UN Security Council February 5, 2003 in New York City. Powell made a presentation attempting to convince the world that Iraq is deliberately hiding weapons of mass destruction. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

2003: Powell receives surgery related to a prostate cancer diagnosis he was given earlier that year.

2004: Powell submits his resignation on Nov. 12, but agrees to remain in office until his successor is named.

2005: Powell’s replacement, Condoleezza Rice, is confirmed, allowing Powell to leave office.

2007: In media appearances that summer, Powell, perhaps spurred by his feelings regarding his actions that led to the war in Iraq, begins to speak out against the Bush administration.

2008: Powell endorses Democrat Barack Obama for President.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

2019: Powell is given the Lincoln Medal by the Ford’s Theatre Society.

2021: In the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building, Powell denounces the Republican Party.

Oct. 18, 2021: Powell passes away from complications related to COVID-19. Reportedly, he was immunocompromised, despite vaccination.

Colin Powell’s biography from the Department of State’s Office of the Historian, along with reports from the Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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