A trip to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall of 1971 for 22-year-old Mike Holden to see his girlfriend turned out a lot different than the Viet Nam draftee would ever expect.
The Charlotte, North Carolina native was drafted in 1967 and sent to Viet Nam. He had been home for several months from Southeast Asia and headed to the coastal city to see his sweetheart, Cookie. He stopped downtown to get breakfast at an eatery on King Street.
Mr. Holden noticed a familiar face sitting at a table in a court yard reading the newspaper. He said he approached the gentleman and it turned out to be William Westmoreland. “How are you General?" The General's response, “Do I know you?” Mr. Holden responded, ”No”, and went on to explain to General Westmoreland he was stationed 12 miles north of his headquarters company in Saigon.
General Westmorland asked Mr. Holden if he would like to meet Lt. Col. Colin Powell who would be joining him in a few minutes. Mr. Holden responded, “Oh yes sir.”
Mr. Holden said General Westmoreland invited him to sit down. Soon Colin Powell arrived and the two officers began talking. Mr. Holden said when he started to leave Colin Powell opened up asking him several questions about his tour of duty. Mr. Holden said Colin Powell was very friendly but business-like. Both men seemed surprised to learn that Mr. Holden, a draftee, had made staff sergeant in about 15 months. The two listened intently as the platoon sergeant described how it all came about. Mr. Holden said after about 15 minutes he thought it was time to go and left the two famous officers to enjoy their coffee. Mr. Holden said it was an experience he will never forget. He and that sweetheart married and now make their home in Chattanooga.
Mr. Holden has written the manuscript for a book entitled “Told to Go.” He said he hopes to have it published one day and relate his Viet Nam experience and include the meeting of the two high-ranking generals. Mr. Holden said General Westmoreland was living in Charleston, South Carolina when he met him. Mr. Holden said he thought Colin Powell was in town to possibly visit the Citadel.
Lt. Col. Ray Adkins met General Powell when he came to Chattanooga in 1976 to tour the reserve center. Mr. Adkins served as an escort. On another occasion Mr. Adkins said he shook hands with General Powell in 1984 at the 125th Army Reserve command meeting in Nashville. Mr. Adkins said, “Powell was very impressive”.
Viet Nam Veterans of America Chapter 203 President Charlie Hobbs met General Powell at a VVA national board meeting in Maryland in 2005. Mr. Hobbs said, “The 4 star general was a very nice man.”
The Four Star General Colin Powell passed away this Monday at the age of 84. He was the first black Secretary of State.