Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and two-time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were among the thousands of men and women, including Medal of Honor recipients and World War II veterans, who served the United States and died in 2021.
Below is a list of notable leaders chosen by Military Times editors who died during the calendar year.
Gen. Colin Powell was a trailblazing soldier and diplomat. He was the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. He died Oct. 18 of complications related to COVID-19, according to his family. He was 84.
Powell, a son of Jamaican immigrants, rose through the ranks to become a four-star general in the Army, in what many said was the embodiment of the American Dream. He was remembered as a beloved colleague, family man, and a fearless leader during his funeral at Washington National Cathedral.
Retired Gen. Raymond Odierno commanded at every level, serving in Germany, Albania, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United States. Odierno became the Army’s 38th chief of staff in September 2011. He died Oct. 8 of cancer, according to a family statement released through an Army spokesman. Odierno was 67.
Odierno is credited with developing the plan for U.S. forces during the height of the Iraq War. For that contribution to national security, he was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. In 2017, Odierno said football helped launch his military career.
Retired Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko was the first commanding officer of the storied SEAL Team Six. Marcinko reportedly named the unit to make other nations believe there were additional SEAL teams. He died on Dec. 25. He was 81 years old.
In 1967, Marcinko led SEAL Team Two in what has become known as the Navy’s most successful SEAL operation during the Vietnam War: the assault on Ilo Ilo Han. He was one of two Navy representatives on a task force to help free American hostages during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.
Edward Shames was a World War II veteran. Shames jumped into Normandy on D-Day as part of Operation Overlord. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was the last surviving officer of “Easy Company.” Easy Company’s story inspired the book and the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.”
After the war, Shames worked for the National Security Agency as an expert on Middle East affairs. Shames died Dec. 3. He was 99 years old.
Charles H. Coolidge
Charles H. Coolidge was drafted into the military in 1942. He was transferred to France in 1944, where it is reported Coolidge bravely called upon Germans to surrender and was met with enemy fire in return. That battle in Germany lasted four days. Coolidge was 23 years old at the time.
Coolide was awarded the Medal of Honor in a rare battlefield ceremony near Dornstadt, Germany, on June 18, 1945. He died April 6. He was 99 years old.
Gary Beikirch was a medical aidman with the Army. In Vietnam’s Kontum Province in 1970, Beikirch ran multiples times into the line of fire to administer aid to wounded troops while he was injured himself. He also retrieved the bodies of his fallen comrades.
Beikirch was awarded the Medal of Honor his heroic actions. He died on Dec. 26. He was 74 years old.
Marine Reserve Cpl. Duane Edgar Dewey used himself as a shield to protect others in his unit from an enemy grenade in Korea in 1952. Dewey did not return to military service after his recovery.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded him the Medal of Honor in 1953, saying “You must have a body of steel,” as he placed the medal around Dewey’s neck. Dewey died Oct. 11. He was 89 years old.
Donald Rumsfeld is the only person to serve twice as Defense Secretary. The first time, in 1975-77, he was the youngest to hold the position. He was the oldest when he returned to the post in 2001-2006. Rumsfeld helped shape the military plan for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He resigned in 2006 as Americans expressed frustration over the Iraq War.
Later, Rumsfeld, headed the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans. Rumsfeld died June 29. He was 88 years old.
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