Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld died at age 88 this week, his family announced in a statement on Wednesday.
“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico,” the statement said.
“History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country,” the statement added.
The statement was posted to Rumsfeld’s official Twitter account, which had been inactive since June 2018.
Rumsfeld is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren.
Born in Chicago on July 9, 1932, Donald Henry Rumsfeld graduated from Princeton University in 1954 before serving three years as an aviator in the United States Navy. After his service, Rumsfeld was elected to the House of Representatives in Illinois in 1962, earning reelection three times.
In 1969, Rumsfeld resigned from Congress to lead then-President Richard Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity before serving as Nixon’s ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 1973-74.
After Nixon resigned from office, Rumsfeld went on to serve as White House chief of staff for President Gerald Ford from 1974-75.
In 1975, Rumsfeld became the youngest person to ever serve as secretary of defense. During his two years in the position, the former aviator established the B-1 strategic bomber, the Trident ballistic missile submarine, and the MX Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile programs.
When Jimmy Carter became president in 1977, Rumsfeld took his first step into the private sector, working as CEO, president and then chairman of the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle & Co. until 1985. From 1990-93, Rumsfeld was chairman and CEO of General Instrument Corp. before becoming chairman of Gilead Sciences, Inc.
The former-rep. then chaired the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which released a document known colloquially as the “Rumsfeld Report” in 1998, claiming states such as North Korea and Iran had the ability to produce ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental U.S. within five years.
Despite his success in the private sector, Rumsfeld once again found himself back in the public sphere when he became President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense in 2001. Working off the findings in the “Rumsfeld Report,” the defense secretary made national missile defense systems a priority, in addition to modernizing the military as a whole.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks shook the U.S. that same year, Rumsfeld oversaw the invasion of Afghanistan which helped overthrow the Taliban terrorist group. Two years later, the U.S. invaded Iraq, bringing Saddam Hussein’s regime to an end.
“As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” the military leader said in 2004.
As the war pushed on and amid growing opposition to the conflict, Rumsfeld resigned from his post in 2006. Several years later in 2011, Rumsfeld released his memoir titled “Known and Unknown” in which he defended both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Two years later he published another book: Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.
“When surprise occurs, such as when the economy enters an unexpected recession or a conflict begins seemingly out the blue, the natural reaction is to immediately ask who made the ‘obvious’ mistake,” he wrote. “It is much easier to believe that our leaders are incompetent than to accept the less pleasant reality that ours is a world where uncertainty and surprise are the norm, not the exception.”
Other notable quotes from the book include, “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much” and “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.”
Rumsfeld made headlines once again in early 2021 when he and other former secretaries of defense wrote a letter advising against the use of U.S. armed forces to resolve election disagreements.
Former-President George W. Bush released a statement following Rumsfeld’s death, describing him as “good-humored and big-hearted,” as well as “a man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy” who “never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility.”