Tom and I met in 1988 in Nashville when we both were inducted into an honor society called the American Academy of Achievement. He had become famous just a couple of years earlier when The Hunt for Red October came out. At the time, I was National Security Adviser to President Reagan. So I, being a soldier, and he, being deeply involved in military matters, hit it off right away. I was fascinated that an insurance agent, in his first shot at writing a book, had come up with The Hunt for Red October. He and I and our spouses spent the whole weekend talking. We became fast friends and stayed in touch over the next 25 years.
Tom, who was 66 when he died on Oct. 1, was quite an interesting guy. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. He spoke his mind clearly and sometimes was quite outspoken. And he was always learning.
His books were all great, but I have a slight preference for Clear and Present Danger because I helped give him the idea for it; at least that’s what he says in the book’s acknowledgments. We were talking about the work the U.S. military was doing in South America to cut the flow of drugs, and he said that gave him the idea. What made his books so popular throughout the world, especially among the military, was how he immersed himself in the things he wrote about. He studied and talked to so many people. He wasn’t sneaking into classified facilities. He was able to gain this extraordinary knowledge by reading, studying and talking to folks.
Tom’s books were incredibly accurate. He didn’t invent impossible schemes. He invented things that could happen. Some things that actually have happened over the years bear some resemblance to scenarios that he put together. Tom could sense things and see things in a way that others couldn’t. He was a friend whom I treasured. He was somebody who really loved his country, and through his books, he demonstrated that love.
Powell was formerly head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Adviser to Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State for George W. Bush
This text originally appeared in the Oct. 14 issue of TIME magazine.
Next Van Cliburn