As friends, family and colleagues arrived at the Washington National Cathedral on Nov. 5 to honor Colin Powell, the U.S. Army Brass Quintet played songs including “America the Beautiful”, “Amazing Grace” and Abba’s “Dancing Queen”—a personal favorite of the trailblazing military leader and diplomat.
As Powell’s wife, Alma, and other family members were seated, the quintet played “Mansions of the Lord.”
Powell died last month at the age of 84. He served Democratic and Republican presidents in times of both war and peace, and earned a reputation as a trustworthy and fair leader. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general and in 1989 became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role he oversaw the U.S. invasion of Panama and later the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
He was the son of Jamaican immigrants and grew up in Hunts Point, a diverse neighborhood in the Bronx. His 35-year Army career began in the Reserve Officers Training Corps Program, or ROTC, at the City College of New York.
He became a platoon leader in Cold War Germany, then served twice in Vietnam. He rose quickly to become the country’s fourth Black four-star general and, by the end of the Reagan administration, the first Black national security adviser.
His reputation and legacy was forever stained, however, when he appeared in front of the United Nations and cited faulty evidence of weapons of mass destruction, as part of the justification of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
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