WASHINGTON — The banter began when the American luminary found himself stuck with a flat tire, and a retired Army amputee pulled over to help.
“I was about two feet away from him when I said, ‘you’re Gen. Colin Powell!’” Anthony Maggert recalled of the January 2019 encounter with the celebrated statesman.
“He said, ‘yes, I am, and why should I let you help change this tire?’”
Maggert responded, “you can wait around for a two-legged guy. But you’ve got a one-legged guy who’s willing to help right now.”
So, Maggert began to change Sec. Powell’s left front tire. On the Beltway. In the cold. With a prosthetic lower leg, plain to see.
It was a moment in time when two strangers connected as Army buddies – Maggert, a veteran of three tours in Iraq, and two in Afghanistan. Powell, a figure who had long since found his place in history, a maker and a mirror of American change.
Powell would later say he was determined to keep the spark of their friendship ignited. Both said to each other they were en route to doctor’s appointments at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
It was there where Powell’s search for Maggert, after the tire change, began.
“He told me later he had his staff look all over the hospital to try to find me,” Maggert said.
A selfie the two took on the shoulder of 495 then went viral on Facebook, when Powell wrote, “Thanks, Anthony. 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.”
Powell’s outreach didn’t end there.
“I was in the gym weeks later, and I got a phone call,” Maggert remembered. “And he goes, 'hey man, this is General Colin Powell.' He literally said that!”
Powell then offered, “We have to do dinner. I want your family and me and my wife to have a dinner together.”
The Maggert and the Powell families thus solidified their friendship, remaining in place for the rest of the secretary’s life. Maggert was finishing culinary school in New York and offered to cook for the Powells.
“As we had dinner, we talked about all kinds of things, and it was very personal. We didn’t talk about his career and what he had done, or my career and what I had done.”
“It was just like two old friends, sitting down.”
Both Maggert and Powell stayed in touch, regularly.
It was last year when Powell told the retired Army major of his cancer diagnosis over the phone, Maggert said.
“He said, ‘I’ve got cancer, and I’m not sure how much longer I’m gonna make it,’” Maggert recalled. “I thought to myself, how terrible losing him would be, and today is that terrible day.”
Reached in his new home in Alabama this afternoon, Maggert said it took two hours for his stomach to recover from the visceral gut-punch of Powell’s death.
Yet thinking back to that day in 2019 when they first met, he said “nothing in my life will ever be better than that experience.”
“I’ve taken away so many things from Gen. Powell’s life and his example. But in that moment, I learned you have to do good, all the time. Even when you don’t think people are looking.”