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Former Illinois Congressman, U.S. Secretary Of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Dies At 88

CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBS News/AP) -- Chicago native and former Illinois congressman and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has died.

In a statement Wednesday, Rumsfeld's family said he died surrounded by family in Taos, New Mexico at the age of 88.

"History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives changed forever 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 family statement said.

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

Rumsfeld is the only person to serve twice as Pentagon chief. The first time, from 1975 to 1977, he was the youngest ever. The next time, from 2001 to 2006, he was the oldest.

He made a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, a spectacular flop that he once described as humbling for a man used to success at the highest levels of the government, including stints as White House chief of staff, U.S. ambassador and member of Congress.

Rumsfeld was born in Chicago and attended New Trier Township High School in Winnetka.

He went on to attend Princeton University on academic and NROTC scholarships, graduating in 1954. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1954 to 1957 as an aviator and flight instructor, and continued as a drilling reservist until 1975.

Rumsfeld came to Washington, D.C. in 1957 to serve as an administrative assistant to a congressman, and after briefly working with an investment banking firm, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois in 1962. He was reelected three times.

Rumsfeld resigned from Congress during his fourth term in 1969 to join the cabinet of President Richard M. Nixon. He became U.S. Ambassador to NATO in 1973, and then served as chairman of the transition to President Gerald Ford the following year.

He became White House chief of staff for the Ford administration and became the youngest secretary of defense in the country's history under Ford from 1975 until 1977.

Rumsfeld served as chief executive officer and president of the G.D. Searle pharmaceutical company from 1977 until 1985 and as CEO of the General Instrument Corporation from 1990 until 1993.

He returned as Secretary of Defense in January 2001 under President George W. Bush. And for all his achievements, it was the setbacks in Iraq in the twilight of his career that will likely etch the most vivid features of his legacy.

Nine months into his second tour as defense secretary, on September 11, 2001, suicide hijackers attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, thrusting the nation into wars for which the military was ill-prepared. Rumsfeld oversaw the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and toppling of the Taliban regime. Frequently presiding at televised briefings on the war, Rumsfeld became something of a TV star, applauded for his blunt talk and uncompromising style.

By 2002 the Bush administration's attention shifted to Iraq, which played no role in the 9/11 attacks. The war effort in Afghanistan took a back seat to Iraq, opening the way for the Taliban to make a comeback and prevent the U.S. from sealing the success of its initial invasion.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003. Baghdad fell quickly, but U.S. and allied forces soon became consumed with a violent insurgency. Critics faulted Rumsfeld for dismissing the pre-invasion assessment of the Army's top general, Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand allied troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq.

Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation to President George W. Bush in 2004 amid disclosures that U.S. troops had abused detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison — an episode he later referred to as his darkest hour as defense secretary.

Not until November 2006, after Democrats gained control of Congress by riding a wave of antiwar sentiment, did Mr. Bush finally decide Rumsfeld had to go. He left office in December, replaced by Robert Gates.

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; a 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.

Rumsfeld is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children, and seven grandchildren.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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