Family says former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has died at 88

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Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who served under two Republican presidents and led the Pentagon on 9/11 and oversaw the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has died at the age of 88, his family said 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,” his family said in a statement.

His family said history may remember Mr. Rumsfeld “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.”

A one-time presidential candidate, Mr. Rumsfeld had a reputation as a skilled bureaucrat and visionary of a modern U.S. military. His status came under increasing criticism during the long-running war in Iraq, prompting his resignation to then-President George W. Bush.

Mr. Rumsfeld was serving in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked commercial airliner crashed into the five-sided building. He felt the building tremble and ran through the smoke and the fumes of jet fuel to the crash site as aides beseeched him to leave the area. 

“Sherman had famously commented that ‘war is hell,’ ” Mr. Rumsfeld wrote in his 2011 memoir. “Hell had descended on the Pentagon.”

He is the only person to serve as Defense secretary twice. The first time was under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977, when Mr. Rumsfeld was the youngest person ever to hold the job at age 43.

Regarded by former colleagues as equally smart and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, Mr. Rumsfeld had a storied career in government under four presidents and nearly a quarter-century in corporate America.

Mr. Rumsfeld served as White House chief of staff to Mr. Ford, U.S. ambassador to NATO, and as a member of the House of Representatives from Illinois in the 1960s.

After retiring in 2008 he headed the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.

“Rummy,” as he was often called, was ambitious, witty, energetic, engaging and capable of great personal warmth. But he irritated many with his confrontational style. An accomplished wrestler in college, Rumsfeld relished verbal sparring and elevated it to an art form. Biting humor was a favorite weapon.

Still, he built a network of loyalists who admired his work ethic, intelligence and impatience with all who failed to share his sense of urgency.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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