'A man of overwhelming decency': US leaders pay tribute to Colin Powell

President Joe Biden and many others paid tribute to Colin Powell who died Monday at the age of 84.

Born in Harlem and the son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell was the first African American ever to serve in a series of high-ranking roles.

As an infantryman in Vietnam, he received a Purple Heart and a soldier's medal for bravery. Powell eventually ran America’s military, then foreign policy at the state department and advised a half-dozen presidents.

"One of our great military leaders and a man of overwhelming decency. This is a guy born a son of immigrants, and he rose to the highest ranks," Biden said.

While Powell endorsed Democrat Biden over President Donald Trump and earlier backed President Barack Obama, he was a Republican for most of his career: National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, then Chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff for President George H.W. Bush; and Secretary of State for President George W. Bush.

Powell was the first African American ever in each post. He said the American dream was, for him and his immigrant family, very personal.

"Believe in America with all your heart and soul, with all of your mind. Remember, that it remains the last, best hope of earth," Powell said.


In the lead up to the first Gulf War, Powell quoted intelligence estimates claiming Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. None were ever found and Powell later said it was a "blot" on his long career. He also regretted opposing President Bill Clinton's decision to allow gays to serve in the military under a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

A school in south suburban Matteson named in Powell’s honor mourned his death.

"Today was devastating to learn our namesake had passed away," said Jason Black Streeter, the principal of Colin Powell Middle School.

President Biden on Monday ordered that American flags at military and other government installations should fly at half-staff through Friday, in honor of Powell.