WASHINGTON — Anthony Maggert knew just about everything about Colin Powell.
He'd read all of his books - "Who hasn't?" he asks. He'd watched him on television, awed by the calm he 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 a flesh-eating bacteria that ultimately resulted in the amputation of a leg, it had been Powell whom he'd thought of often. He was an ideal to strive toward.
On Tuesday, Maggert was driving down I-495 toward Bethesda, Maryland, and he 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 his car, and, atop a prosthetic leg, walked toward the man. That was when he knew 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, a moment ago, going their own ways, but had now now been thrust together.
A few miles away, in Washington, the government had broken down. The pundits on television were shouting at each other. 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 tribal 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, in whom he again saw that effortless calm. "I hope when I'm 82, I'm as spry as he is."
With the wheel fixed, Powell left for an exam he had 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. He ultimately 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 then 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."