Veteran who lost leg in Afghanistan helps his "idol" Colin Powell change tire on side of road

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

A military veteran on his way to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday saw someone having car trouble on the side of the road. Being the good Samaritan that he is, the veteran stopped to help — only to realize the man was his idol, Colin Powell.

"I'm not really starstruck that much. It was just a situation like, here's somebody on the side of the road who needs help, why not get out?" Anthony Maggert told CBS News. Since they were only about 5 miles away from Walter Reed, he knew the man likely didn't just look like Colin Powell — he was Colin Powell.

"The closer I got to the vehicle, I saw the face and I said, 'That has to be Colin Powell,'" Maggert said. When Powell got out of the car, Maggert realized he was face-to-face with the renowned general.

Maggert told CBS News he served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he read all of Powell's books and that the former general inspired him to enlist. "[He] 100 percent did – maybe 1,000 percent," Maggert said.

Maggert, who contracted a flesh-eating bacteria and lost one of his legs in Afghanistan, said he and Powell "chatted it up like two Army buddies" while they changed the tire.

Powell wrote about the encounter on Facebook. "Yesterday was a reassuring day for me," he wrote. "I was on my way to Walter Reed Military Hospital for an exam. As I drove along Interstate 495 my left front tire blew out."

"I am a car guy and knew I could change it, but it was cold outside and the lug bolts were very tight. I jacked the car up and got several of the bolts removed when a car suddenly pulled up in front of me," the former secretary of state wrote. "As the man got out of his car I could see that he had an artificial leg."

Yesterday was a reassuring day for me. I was on my way to Walter Reed Military Hospital for an exam. As I drove along…

Posted by General Colin L. Powell on Thursday, January 24, 2019

Powell said asked Maggert about his leg and they chatted briefly about their service before they both left for their separate appointments at Walter Reed. "I hadn't gotten his name or address but he did ask for a 'selfie'. And then he sent me the message below last night," Powell wrote, sharing the message Maggert sent:

"Gen. Powell, I hope I never forget today because I'll never forget reading your books. 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. Anthony Maggert," the vet wrote.

Sharing the selfie they took, 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."

The photo of the good Samaritan and the four-star general gained widespread attention on social media. Maggert shared the selfie on Facebook too.

Maggert says he would have pulled over to help even if it hadn't been Colin Powell by the side of the road. "I just wanted to make sure he was safe. I would've done it for anyone," Maggert told CBS News.

He said Powell was a "gentleman" during the brief encounter.

Maggert said reading about how Powell overcame hardships and then excelled was an inspiration for him.

"When I was a kid, I thought, wow, it would be cool to be in the military … but I never thought I would do 23 years in the military. I never thought I would re-deploy as an amputee," he said.

"[Powell] always talked about doing better than just being mediocre," Maggert said. "And when I got out of the military this last June, I've always had this passion for going to culinary school. So I go to New York City – lower Manhattan – every weekend to culinary school. I'm the very first, that I know of, amputee to go to the Institute of Culinary Education."

Even as their story spread widely on social media, Maggert was still in disbelief that he'd met Colin Powell on the side of the road. "He's absolutely an idol," he said.

First published on January 24, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Veteran who lost leg helps Colin Powell change tire

Powell wrote, "You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great"

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