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Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, 1934-2012

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., USA (Ret.), died Dec. 27, 2012, in Tampa, Fla., of complications from pneumonia. He was 78.

“With the passing of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, America lost a great patriot and a great soldier,” said former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had once served as Schwarzkopf’s subordinate. “Norm served his country with courage and distinction for over 35 years. The highlight of his career was the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm. ‘Stormin’ Norman’ led the coalition forces to victory, ejecting the Iraqi Army from Kuwait and restoring the rightful government. His leadership not only inspired his troops, but also inspired the nation.”

It was a quiet ending for the general the public dubbed “Stormin’ Norman,” and who was seen as America’s first post-Vietnam military hero. These, however, are just the dry facts behind a man who was the general entrusted to take the U.S. military into its first large-scale war since Vietnam. In fact, Schwarzkopf was a complex man and soldier who lived an American life like something out of a novel.

H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., was born in New Jersey in 1934, the son of the founder and superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. The elder Schwarzkopf gained national recognition during the investigation of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s son, and later went to Iran in 1946 to train the national police force (SAVAK) and to advise the young Shah, Reza Pahlavi. Accompanying his father overseas, young Schwarzkopf studied in Iran, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and providing him an early look at the Persian Gulf region that would figure so prominently in his later life. Following graduation from the U.S. Military Academy (43rd in the Class of 1958), he earned a masters degree in engineering at the University of Southern California, attended the U.S. Army War College, and taught missile engineering at West Point.

Like many other young Army officers of his era, Schwarzkopf served multiple tours in Vietnam. First as an advisor, then as a battalion commander, Schwarzkopf showed both the leadership qualities and fiery temper that would define him in the eyes of his peers in subsequent years. Those on the receiving end of his bluster famously knew his habit of explosively berating subordinates as “CINC Abuse.” He was said to have told his troops, “When you get on that plane to go home, if the last thing you think about me is ‘I hate that son of a bitch’, then that is fine because you’re going home alive.” His wife Brenda, and three children, family and friends, knew a more gentle soul they fondly called “the Bear.” Schwarzkopf’s combat decorations included no less than three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, nine Air Medals, and the Purple Heart, received for a wound that caused back problems that would dog him for much of his life.

Unlike so many of his Vietnam-era peers who left the Army following Vietnam, Schwarzkopf chose to stay and serve. He became part of the generation of officers who helped rebuild it from the tattered, draft-era service it was into the all-volunteer professional force it is today. In the process, Schwarzkopf continued to rise in the Army, commanding both the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized – today the 3rd Infantry Division) and I Corps, and also was named deputy commander of the Operation Urgent Fury Joint Task Force (JTF) that invaded Grenada. In 1988, Schwarzkopf was promoted to the rank of general and given command of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. His early work at CENTCOM involved recasting the command’s focus from containing Iran to defending the Persian Gulf oilfields against possible invasion by hostile nations, including Iraq. When Iraq subsequently invaded Kuwait in 1990, it was Schwarzkopf who stood up the JTF to defend Saudi Arabia, and later the massive joint/multinational force which liberated the country. Along the way, Schwarzkopf became the public face of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and an American hero for his fiery briefings and interviews.

Though offered the position of Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army following his return stateside in 1991, Schwarzkopf chose to retire in 1991. His subsequent autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero (1992 with Pete Petre) was an international bestseller that provided Schwarzkopf and his family financial security for the remainder of his life. He was a vocal spokesman for prostate cancer awareness, of which he was a survivor. Schwarzkopf also worked as an analyst for NBC News, and though often encouraged, avoided the lure of political office. Upon hearing news of his passing, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said “General Schwarzkopf’s skilled leadership of that campaign liberated the Kuwaiti people and produced a decisive victory for the allied coalition. In the aftermath of that war, General Schwarzkopf was justly recognized as a brilliant strategist and inspiring leader. Today, we recall that enduring legacy and remember him as one of the great military giants of the 20th century.”

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...