Anthony Maggert knows just about everything about retired Gen. Colin L. Powell.
He had read all of his books — “Who hasn’t?” he asks. He had watched him on television, awed by the calm Powell seemed to show even in the most trying of times. And then, when he got into the military himself, serving 23 years and undertaking three tours in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan, where he contracted an infection from flesh-eating bacteria that ultimately resulted in the amputation of a leg, it had been Powell whom he had thought of often. He was an ideal to strive toward.
So on Tuesday, when Maggert was driving on the Capital Beltway toward Bethesda and saw a tall man stooped beside his car, trying to fix a flat front tire, Maggert immediately thought he recognized him: Powell.
But no, he thought, it couldn’t be. Out here, on the side of the road?
Thinking he’d help the stranded driver either way, he pulled over, and, atop a prosthetic leg, walked toward the man. That was when he saw that he’d been right.
“You’re General Colin Powell,” Maggert, 42, recalled saying.
“Yes, I am,” Powell replied.
It was only a chance encounter. Just a few minutes spent between strangers, each of whom had been going their own way a moment ago but were now thrust together. A few miles away, in Washington, the government had shut down. The pundits on television were shouting at one another. And everyone had something to say about the uneasy encounter between a Native American veteran and boys in Make America Great Again hats on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, an incident that had been interpreted along partisan lines. But out here, all of that seemed distant. The matter at hand was, for once, simple. There was a flat tire, and it needed fixing.
Maggert got out the lug wrench, and Powell put away his tools, the two of them chatting about Afghanistan as they worked.
“Such a gentleman,” Maggert said of the former U.S. secretary of state, now 81, in whom he again saw that effortless calm. “I hope when I’m [that age], I’m as spry as he is.”
With the wheel fixed, Powell left for an exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and Maggert went on his way, but not before he snapped a quick selfie.
All that day, Maggert thought about what happened. So he got out his phone and wrote him a message:
“Gen. Powell, I hope I never forget today because I’ll never forget reading your books,” he said. “You were always an inspiration, a leader and statesman. After 33 years in the military you were the giant whose shoulders we stood upon to carry the torch to light the way and now it is tomorrow’s generation that must do the same.”
Powell responded in kind:
“Thanks, Anthony,” he wrote in a public Facebook post. “You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great. Let’s stop screaming at each other. Let’s just take care of each other. You made my day.”