In 1958, when the Cold War was well underway, Colin Powell was just getting his start in his unit. He was sent to Gelnhausen, Germany, after completing Basic Training at Fort Benning in Georgia.
In December 1958, he joined the 3rd Armored Division, which he discussed in his book "My American Journey," published in 1995. He was 21 years old and commanded 40 soldiers in Company B, 2nd Armored Rifle Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment. They were 43 miles away from the Soviet soldiers on the "front lines" of the war, keeping the Soviets at bay.
To assist, they had some "Atomic Annies" or M65 Atomic Cannon. Because the gun was so important, it had its own infantry assigned to guarding it, which is where 2nd Lt. Powell came in. He was excited for his first mission guarding the "280," as they called it.
He put his 1911 .45 sidearm into his holster, jumped in a Jeep, and headed to the battalion headquarters. On his way, he reached for his sidearm. Discovering that it wasn't there, his heart dropped. Losing his weapon had the very real possibility of ending his career.
Powell stopped the car, weighing whether to search for it or tell his commanding officer that he had lost the gun. He chose to radio Capt. Miller and tell him he lost his sidearm and continued to the mission briefing.
He came upon a small village on his way back, and his commander, Miller, was there. He recounted in his book Miller stopping him, saying, "I've got something for you."
“Some kids in the village found it where it fell out of your holster. Luckily they only got off one round before we heard the shot and came and took the gun away from them.”Capt. Miller
After returning his gun, Miller said, " For God's sake, son, don't let that happen again" and drove away. Powell checked and realized no rounds had actually been fired. Nevertheless, his captain's story was to serve as a warning of what could have happened, adding a little fear to the overall lesson: keeping track of your sidearm.
Miller's approach proved to be the right one. As a result, we deeply respect and appreciate Powell's long and successful military career, even though we may not agree with his political stances.