Death of a hero: Gen. Schwarzkopf did his duty when it mattered

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Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, died Thursday in Tampa, Fla., at 78. He was an authentic American hero in the heady days of swift victory before Iraq became synonymous with tragic waste in a second war more a decade later. His good fortune was that his Iraq war was the first -- the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which was unambiguously triggered by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

As the U.S. commander of a broad alliance of many nations, he deployed a huge force that swiftly annihilated the Iraqi troops -- including the much-feared Republican Guard -- in one of the most one-sided military victories of the 20th century. Kuwait was liberated and Americans swooned.

To the victor go the laurels -- and in Gen. Schwarzkopf the American people found a larger-than-life figure who looked the part of a happy warrior, a John Wayne in desert fatigues.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously said that old soldiers never die, they just fade away -- and something of that sort did occur with Gen. Schwarzkopf, whose glory faded a little over time. The trouble with history is that revisionists correct the first draft and chip away at the original myth. Although it was a political decision and cannot be blamed on the general, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to remind Americans that the job was only half-done the first time -- Saddam Hussien was left in power.

But nothing can detract from his service to his country. He was a brave soldier who did his job -- and did it spectacularly.

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