President Obama marked the passing of a “genuine soldier-statesman” Saturday after it emerged former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili
had died at 75.
Shalikashvili led the Joint Chiefs under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997, succeeding Gen. Colin Powell. He counseled Clinton on the use of troops in Bosnia and other trouble spots.
Polish-born Shalikashvili fled his homeland in 1944 ahead of the Russian advance and came to the U.S. as a teenager. He survived a stroke in 2004.
Obama said in a statement: “With the passing of General John M. Shalikashvili, the United States has lost a genuine soldier-statesman whose extraordinary life represented the promise of America and the limitless possibilities that are open to those who choose to serve it. From his arrival in the United States as a 16-year old Polish immigrant after the Second World War, to a young man who learned English from John Wayne movies, to his rise to the highest ranks of our military, Shali’s life was an “only in America” story. By any measure, he made our country a safer and better place.
“As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he strengthened our alliances in Europe and in Asia, forged closer defense ties with Russia, and championed the Partnership for Peace with the former Soviet states. At the same time, he oversaw successful military operations in Bosnia and Haiti, and elsewhere. Most of all, he fought tirelessly to improve the quality of life for our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and their families who serve to keep us safe.
“Michelle and I extend our heartfelt condolences to General Shalikashvili’s wife Joan and their son Brant.” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who worked with Shalikashvili in the Clinton White House, also paid tribute “with a heavy heart.”
His statement read: “It is with a heavy heart that I received news of the passing of General John M. Shalikashvili. John was an extraordinary patriot who faithfully defended this country for four decades, rising to the very pinnacle of the military profession. He lived the American dream, arriving from Europe with his family as a teenager after World War II, and he dedicated his life to defending the country that had quickly adopted him and his family.
“I worked closely with John back in the Clinton administration when he served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I was the White House Chief of Staff. I came to rely on his wise counsel, his wealth of military expertise, and his candor as we were challenged by foreign policy crises in Haiti, the Balkans, and elsewhere. I will remember John as always being a stalwart advocate for the brave men and women who don the uniform and stand guard over this nation.
“During my many years of public service, I have had the privilege to serve alongside great leaders. John Shalikashvili was one of this country's finest. My condolences go out to his wife Joan and his son Brant.”
Current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said in a statement: “The Joint Chiefs and the more than two million men and women in uniform join me today in mourning the death of retired General John Shalikashvili, our 13th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“During his tenure as Chairman, he skillfully shepherded our military through the early years of the post-Cold War era, helping to redefine both U.S. and NATO relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact, while crafting a vision for our military that vastly improved its joint capabilities and interoperability, efforts that continue to make a difference around the world today.”