Two retired Army generals remember Gen. Colin Powell from his 35-year military career

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Colin Powell’s 35-year Army career started at Fort Benning in 1958.

Two retired generals living here in Columbus crossed paths with Powell several times during that distinguished career.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jerry White and Retired Lt. Gen. Sam Wetzel remember the first time they met Powell. It was 1969 in Vietnam. All three were with the famed Americal Division.

“Probably across the board the most stable, bright leader I ever served with was Colin Powell,” White said. “I don’t think there is any question about that.”

White served twice directly under Colin Powell’s command. The first time was in 1969 in Vietnam when Powell was a major. Then again in the late 1980s when Powell had four stars, was Forces commander, and had universal respect, White worked for Powell.

“It is hard to take somebody like Colin Powell and put it into perspective really,” White said. “But he never changed a lot from being a second lieutenant out of New York to being the Secretary of State and the chairman. He was always the same. He treated everybody the same. He had a way about him that if Colin Powell said it, you believed it. You didn’t question it really. You just believed it. Because that’s the way it was.”

Wetzel remembers his first encounter with Powell. Who was briefing Americal Division commanders on a daily basis.

“I was a lieutenant colonel and I was in charge of the pacification program for the Americal Division after I had commanded an infantry battalion in the mountains,” Wetzel said. “And Powell impressed me as articulate, knowledgeable. He knew what he was talking about.”

Later, Wetzel would command the Army Fifth Corps in Germany. When Wetzel retired, Powell took over his command.

Powell inspired people, White told News 3.

“People believed in him,” White said. “They trusted him. And he always told you the truth. He never sugar-coated anything. He was very honest. Very bright. You just immediately developed a rapport with Colin Powell. You could be a Spec. 4, a new soldier, a general. It didn’t make a whole lot of difference with Colin Powell. He treated everyone fairly. He treated everybody the same.”

Powell came to Columbus in 2009 to cut the ribbon opening the National Infantry Museum. White played a role getting him here.

While Powell, loved Fort Benning, White says he was not overly fond of Columbus because of his experiences back during segregation in the 1950s and ’60s.

“At that time, he couldn’t even go to a restaurant,” White said. “He could soldier with you all day long at Fort Benning, but the whites and the blacks split at night. … It always did bother him a lot that he could soldier, but he couldn’t go to a restaurant and eat in some places.”

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