Retired Fort Benning commanding general Sam Wetzel dies at 91

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Retired Fort Benning commanding general Sam Wetzel has died.

Wetzel died Thursday morning in hospice care, son-in-law Ken Henson told the Ledger-Enquirer. He was 91.

The 1952 West Point graduate served for 34 years in the U.S. Army.

“He was military all the way,” Henson said.

Wetzel had fallen about a month ago after hip surgery and went “downhill real quick,” he said.

While the Army and Columbus knew him as a respected military and community leader, Henson described him as a loving family man as well.

“He was the epitome of a gentleman,” Henson said. “He was just kind and gracious to everybody he met. You rarely heard him say a bad word about anybody.”

The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Jan. 28, in St. Anne Catholic Church, 2000 Kay Circle in Columbus, followed by burial at Fort Benning, Henson said.

According to his Army bio, Wetzel commanded an infantry platoon and an infantry company during the Korean War, a mechanized infantry company in Germany and the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, during the Vietnam War.

After commanding the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colorado, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1975 and returned to Germany as commander of the 1st Infantry Division Forward and 3rd Infantry Division. He also served on the Army, Joint and European Command staffs, as executive to the Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe, Gen. Al Haig, in Belgium, and as inspector general of U.S. operations in 24 countries for the U.S. European Command.

As a major general and commander at Fort Benning in 1981, Wetzel was told he had had less than a year to live when he was diagnosed with melanoma. But he refused the Army’s offer of full medical disability, beat the cancer and earned his third star when he again was assigned to Germany, this time as deputy commander of U.S. Forces Europe and commander of the 5th (V) U.S. Corps.

He retired in 1986 as a lieutenant general. His military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star, two Legion of Merits, six Air Medals, Joint Superior Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge with Star.

Retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza called Wetzel “a great soldier with a great reputation.”

Cavezza served as a colonel under Wetzel at Fort Benning before becoming commander of the post.

“If you worked with him, it was enjoyable,” Cavezza told the L-E. “He was a hard worker. He’d work alongside you. If you worked for him, he was very demanding. He made sure the job got done the way he wanted it.”

In addition to Wetzel overcoming cancer, he was known for persevering on the golf course. Cavezza described how Wetzel steadied himself to swing despite having trouble standing: “He held onto the club with one hand and the cart with the other.”

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