From the Battlefield to the World’s Stage: A Tribute to General Colin L. Powell

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”

~Colin Powell

On October 18, 2021, four-star general, diplomat, and statesman Colin L. Powell passed away at the age of 84, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was the first African American to serve as the National Security Adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as the United States Secretary of State. Throughout his military and political career, Powell received numerous medals and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice), the Congressional Gold Medal, the Spingarn Medal, Sylvanus Thayer Award, and the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award. In addition to these accolades, Colin Powell wrote several books about his life experiences including My American Journey (1995) and It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (2012).

Powell taking up the full frame, looking upwards
Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, Sep 11, 2001 (NAID 176203801)

Colin Luther Powell was born on April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York City, New York to Jamaican immigrant parents Maud Ariel and Luther Theophilus Powell. He was educated in the New York City Public Schools and earned a bachelor’s degree in Geology from the City College of New York (CUNY) in 1958. While as a student at CUNY, Powell developed an interest in the military and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after graduation and served in the military for thirty-five years. During his long military career, Powell served two tours in Vietnam in 1962 and 1968, was named National Security Advisor in 1987, served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, and oversaw Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1991. He was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. Powell retired from the military in 1993 and was confirmed as the United States Secretary of State in 2001.

The National Archives and the Presidential Libraries hold several textual documents, photographs and video recordings of Colin Powell. Information related to his military career can be found in RG 330 Sound Recordings of Civilian and Military Defense Officials (NAID 1148083), RG 306 Photo File Photographs (NAID 611515), and RG 330 Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files (NAID 6274097). For records documenting Powell’s time as Secretary of State see: RG 59 Photographs Documenting Agency Officials, and Headquarters Special Events and Facilities (NAID 6171529), RG 59 Photographs Related to Secretary of State Diplomatic Duties (NAID 85714629), and RG 48 Central Photographic Assignment Files Documenting the Secretary’s Activities, and Agency Events, Programs, and Officials (NAID 5573984).

President Barack Obama meets with former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, in the Oval Office, May 15, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way or used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Leave a Reply