Lieutenant General Robert L. “Sam” Wetzel, US Army Retired, 91, of Columbus died January 20 surrounded by his loving family. He was born October 6, 1930, in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the eldest son of the late Columbus Lon and Ruth Kerr Wetzel.
After graduating from Washington Irving High School in 1948, Sam attended the United States Military Academy, West Point, graduating in 1952 with a B.S. in Engineering. Shortly afterwards, he married Margaret Burkholder, with whom he had two children(Margaret and Bob).
Sam served two combat tours, first as an Infantry platoon leader in Korea and then as commander of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry in Vietnam. Later, while attending the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Sam met and married Eilene Christensen Long, a Vietnam widow with five young children (Chris, Ted, Patty, Cathy, and Mike).
Sam had a distinguished, 34-year career in the U.S. Army, including: Aide to MG William Westmoreland, Superintendent of the US Military Academy; Chief of Staff to General Alexander Haig, Supreme Allied Commander Europe; Commanding General of Ft. Benning; Deputy Commander-in-Chief U.S. Army Europe; and ending his career as Commander of V U.S. Army Corps in Frankfurt. Upon his retirement and after 11 years in his beloved West Germany, Sam received a distinguished honor for an American when the German armed forces performed its most important ceremony, the torchlight “Grand Tattoo.”
Sam loved soldiers; he was Infantry to the core. His motto was “Make it Happen. ”He was named the first Chief of Infantry since World War II when he was selected to command the Infantry Center, Fort Benning. He was also the Honorary Colonel of the 31st Infantry Regiment and the Past National Commander, Military Order of the World Wars. He held both the Spirit of the Infantry Award and the Doughboy Award.
On retirement from the military, Sam returned to Columbus, Georgia, where he started a consulting firm, Wetzel International. He was active in the Columbus community and maintained perfect attendance at Rotary for many years, attending meetings around the world. He was a beloved member of the Green Island Country Club “Hacker” golf group for 35 years, where he served as “Czar,” organizing pairings and playthrough blazing heat and freezing rain with military style precision. He loved taking his grandchildren to Cottonmouth hockey games and hosting his annual Easter egg hunt amidst the azaleas in the yard.
Surviving Sam are his loving wife of 51 years, Eilene; his seven children: Margaret Wetzel Maxson, Robert Wetzel, Jr., (Donna Mills), Eileen “Chris” Long Henson (Ken), Theodore Long, Patricia Long Merritt (Butch), Catherine Long, Michael Long; his ten grandchildren: Joshua Wetzel, Jessica Staschak (Robert), Samuel Maxson (Ashley), Christopher Maxson, Kenneth Henson III, Evelyn Henson, Jacqueline Henson, Nell Henson, Theodore Henson, Herlihy Long, Benjamin Petree; and his five great grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held 1:00 pm Friday, January 28, 2022 at St. Anne’s Catholic Church 2000 Kay Circle Columbus, Georgia 31907. Those who are unable to attend the services may view them LIVE by visiting www.stannecsg.com. The graveside burial with military honors will follow at Fort Benning Cemetery. The family will receive friends at the National Infantry Museum following the burial.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Infantry Museum 1775 Legacy Way Columbus, Georgia 31903 or www.nationalinfantrymuseum.org
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