Obituary: H. Norman Schwarzkopf / General became hero after Gulf War

Aug. 22, 1934 - Dec. 27, 2012

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Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the U.S.-led forces that crushed Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and became the nation's most acclaimed military hero since the midcentury exploits of Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, died on Thursday in Tampa, Fla. He was 78.

The general, who retired soon after the Gulf War and lived in Tampa, died of complications arising from pneumonia, said his sister Ruth Barenbaum. In 1993, he was found to have prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated.

In Operation Desert Storm, Mr. Schwarzkopf orchestrated one of the most lopsided victories in modern warfare, a six-week blitzkrieg by a broad coalition of forces with overwhelming air superiority that liberated tiny Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, routed Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard and virtually destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, all with relatively light allied losses.

A combat-tested, highly decorated career officer who had held many commands, served two battlefield tours in Vietnam and coordinated U.S. landing forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, he came home to a tumultuous welcome, including a glittering ticker-tape parade up Broadway in the footsteps of Lindbergh, MacArthur and the moon-landing Apollo astronauts.

"Stormin' Norman," as headlines proclaimed him, was lionized by millions of euphoric Americans who, until weeks earlier, had never heard of him. The first President George Bush, whose popularity soared with the war, gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Congress gave him standing ovations. Queen Elizabeth II made him an honorary knight. European and Asian nations conferred lavish honors.

Within weeks, the four-star general had become a media and marketing phenomenon. Three months after the war, he signed a $5 million contract with Bantam Books for the world rights to his memoirs, "It Doesn't Take a Hero," written with Peter Petre and published in 1992.

All but drowned out in the surge of approbation, critics noted that the general's enormous air, sea and land forces had overwhelmed a country with a gross national product equivalent to North Dakota's, and that while Iraq's bridges, dams and power plants had been all but obliterated and tens of thousands of its troops killed (compared to a few hundred allied casualties), Saddam Hussein had been left in power.

Moreover, postwar books, news reports and documentaries -- a flood of information the general had restricted during the war -- showed that most of Iraq's elite Republican Guard, whose destruction had been a goal of war planners, had escaped from an ill-coordinated Marine and Army assault, and had not been pursued because of Mr. Bush's decision to halt the ground war after 100 hours. "The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf" (1995), by Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times and the retired Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, cast Mr. Schwarzkopf as a second-rate commander who took credit for allied successes, blamed others for his mistakes and shouted at, but did not effectively control, his field commanders as the Republican Guard slipped away.

He was depicted more sympathetically in other books, including "In the Eye of the Storm" (1991), by Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti. "His swift triumph over Iraq in the 1991 gulf war came as a shock to a nation that had been battered, by failing industries and festering economic problems, into a sense that the century of its power was at an end," they wrote. "Schwarzkopf appeared abruptly as an intensely human messenger of hope, however illusory or fragile."

Old official photographs show a medaled military mannequin, a 6-foot-3-inch 240-pounder with grim determined eyes. But they miss the gentler man who listened to Pavarotti, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan; who loved hunting, fishing and ballet and, like any soldier, called home twice a week from the war zone.

Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was born on Aug. 22, 1934, in Trenton, N.J., one of three children of his namesake and the former Ruth Bowman. At 18, he dropped the Jr. and his first name but kept the initial. His father, New Jersey's first state police superintendent, investigated the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping; he was also a West Point graduate, fought in World Wars I and II, became a major general and trained Iran's national police in the 1940s.

At West Point, he was on the football and wrestling teams and sang in the choir. He loved history and dreamed of leading men in battle. "He saw himself as Alexander the Great," recalled Gen. Leroy Suddath, his old roommate, "and we didn't laugh when he said it." In 1956, he graduated 43rd in a class of 480.

After infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., he served two years with airborne units in the U.S. and Europe, took a two-year assignment in Berlin and a career-officer course at Fort Benning, then earned a master's in guided-missile engineering in 1964 from the University of Southern California.

Mr. Schwarzkopf went to Vietnam as an adviser to a South Vietnamese airborne division in 1965 and once withstood a 10-day enemy siege. He returned a major in 1966, taught at West Point for two years, and as a lieutenant colonel attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

In 1968 he married Brenda Holsinger. They had three children: Cynthia, Jessica and Christian. A battalion commander in his second Vietnam tour, in 1969-70, he was wounded twice and won three Silver Stars for bravery.

He became a colonel in 1975, a brigadier general in 1978, a major general in 1982 and a lieutenant general in 1986.

In 1983, while assigned to the 24th Mechanized Infantry, an elite tank division at Fort Stewart, Ga., he was tapped to coordinate the task force that invaded Grenada.

In 1988, Mr. Schwarzkopf was given his fourth star and named commander of the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, supervising military activities in 19 countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf. He developed contingency plans for war in Iraq, and two years later they were needed.

On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait. Mr. Schwarzkopf moved his headquarters to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and amassed hundreds of ships, thousands of aircraft and 765,000 allied troops, including 540,000 Americans and large Arab contingents under Prince Khaled bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, who was co-commander in the gulf war. A trade embargo and warnings failed to force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, and after a deadline passed on Jan. 15, 1991, the world's first heavily televised war began.

After his retirement in August 1991, Mr. Schwarzkopf was a military analyst for NBC and went on the air for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, called Operation Iraqi Freedom by President George W. Bush. The invasion destroyed the Republican Guard and led to the execution of Saddam Hussein, but also to years of continuing war.

The general supported Bush's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and Sen. John McCain's 2008 race against Sen. Barack Obama, but he never ran for political office. He served on corporate boards, promoted prostate-cancer awareness and raised millions for charities, including homes and recreation centers for abused or abandoned children.

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