WASHINGTON Retired General John Shalikashvili, an immigrant who rose to the position of Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1990s, has died. He was 75.
In a statement Saturday, President Barack Obama praised Shalikashvili as "a genuine soldier-statesman whose extraordinary life represented the promise of America" for those who choose to serve it.
His cause of death was not immediately available.
Shalikashvili was born in Poland of Georgian parents. He came to the United States as a teen-ager, learned English from John Wayne movies and rose to become the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military.
Shalikashvili served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997, heading the U.S. role in NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serb military targets in 1995.
"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," President Obama said.
Shalikashvili succeeded Gen. Colin Powell as chairman of the joint chiefs. Born in Warsaw in 1936 shortly before World War Two, he fled to Germany in a cattle car in 1944 ahead of the Soviet advance.
After retiring from the military, he served as a visiting professor at Stanford and Harvard Universities and publicly endorsed Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in Kerry's losing 2004 presidential campaign.
Shalikashvili, who also served as a director of the Boeing Co. , survived a massive stroke in 2004 at his home near Fort Lewis, Washington, next to Tacoma.
(Reporting by Glenn Somerville, editing by Todd Eastham)