El Paso has been on Colin Powell’s mind for decades.
On Wednesday night he got to visit the Sun City as the keynote speaker at the Stars scholarship fundraiser. Thursday morning he visited an El Paso school that bears his name.
“There’s another thing about El Paso that always touches me and that’s the wonderful song ‘El Paso’ by Marty Robbins,” Powell said during his speech Wednesday. “You also saw it in ‘Breaking Bad,’ the last episode. For those of you who don’t know, or aren’t up to date on television, ‘Breaking Bad’ is this wonderful series and the final episode was set to Marty’s song. And every verse of it they put it in a different place in the final scene so that it almost matches the original song as the story played out.
“And so I heard about it and it reminded me of so many things because I have some Marty Robbins El Paso stories. Two stories, really. It begins 50 years ago, 50 years ago now, I was in Vietnam and I was a captain, I was an advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion … with a sergeant and about 300 Vietnamese soldiers. Most of them did not speak English – only the commander spoke English – barely.
“And we were alone in the jungle. And on Saturday nights – only on Saturday nights — if we found the right hill and got high enough we had an old radio that could pick up Armed Forces Radio in Saigon – just barely. But loud enough for all of the soldiers to come around me and listen to whatever the music was. And for some reason, it was just a couple of years after the song came out, they kept playing this Marty Robbins song every Saturday night. I had all these Vietnamese soldiers who didn’t understand a word of English but they wanted to hear the song.
“What they knew about the song was the chorus. Anytime they heard that chorus they joined in. And so it was this bonding experience. So it was wonderful,” Powell said.
In 2001, Powell and the U.S. delegation at a summit in Hanoi, Vietnam performed a version of “El Paso” with revised lyrics. The performance provided a minor media stir because of the kiss the Japanese foreign minister gave Powell as part of the performance.
Thursday morning Powell visited Colin Powell Elementary in El Paso – the eighth school in the U.S. to bear his name. He shook hands with students and saluted those that saluted him.
He said during his keynote speech that the El Paso school was the last one with his name that he had yet to visit and he wanted to make sure it was on his itinerary when plans were being finalized last week for his El Paso visit.