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, 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.
Winning the lightning war was never in doubt and in no way comparable to the traumas of World War II and the Korean conflict, which made Eisenhower and MacArthur into national heroes and presidential timber. But a divisive Vietnam conflict and the Cold War had produced no such heroes, and the little-known Schwarzkopf was wreathed in laurels as the victor in a popular war against a brutal dictator.
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. President George H.W. 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.
In his desert fatigues, he was interviewed on television, featured on magazine covers and feted at celebrations in Tampa, Washington and other cities. He led the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville and was the superstar at the Indianapolis 500. Florida Republicans urged him to run for the U.S. Senate.Amid speculation about his future, a movement to draft him for president arose. He insisted he had no presidential aspirations, but Time magazine quoted him as saying he someday “might be able to find a sense of self-fulfillment serving my country in the political arena,” and he told Barbara Walters on the ABC News program “20/20” that he would not rule out a run for the White House.
“Never say never,” he said.
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. Herbert Mitgang, reviewing the book for The New York Times, called it a serviceable first draft of history. “General Schwarzkopf,” he wrote, “comes across as a strong professional soldier, a Patton with conscience.”
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 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, portrayed a White House rushed into ending the war prematurely by unrealistic fears of being criticized for killing too many Iraqis and by ignorance of events on the ground. It cast 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 the man whose name he shared 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.
As a boy, Schwarzkopf attended Bordentown Military Institute near Trenton. But from 1946 to 1950 he lived in Iran, Switzerland, Germany and Italy with his father. Already fluent in French and German at 17, he enrolled at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., played football and was a champion debater.
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.
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.
Men in his command were killed in two 1970 actions that deeply affected him.
On Feb. 18, an artillery shell aimed at the enemy roared over a hill where one of his companies was dug in. It hit a treetop and exploded, killing Sgt. Michael E. Mullen. Form letters sent over the colonel’s name seemed to implicate him, and the sergeant’s parents held him partly responsible as they crusaded to expose military callousness. The case became an anti-war cause celebre and tarnished the colonel’s record, perhaps unjustly. A 1976 book, “Friendly Fire,” by C.D.B. Bryan, called the death accidental, but a 1995 memoir by the sergeant’s mother, “Unfriendly Fire,” blamed the military.
On May 28, the colonel ordered his helicopter down to rescue troops who had wandered into a minefield. Some were airlifted out, but he stayed behind with his troops. A soldier tripped a mine, shattering his leg and wounding the colonel, who crawled atop the thrashing victim to stop him from setting off more mines. Three other troopers were killed by an exploding mine, but the colonel led the survivors to safety. The incident sealed his reputation as a commander willing to risk his life for his men.
He came home dismayed at the Army’s leadership and convinced that the peace movement and the news media were prolonging the war. One of his sisters, Ruth Barenbaum, had become a peace activist, and for years they did not speak. He later concluded that politicians had lost the war, and the failure, at a cost of 58,000 U.S. lives, left him devastated. For a time, he considered resigning his commission.
His decision to stay in the service came at a military nadir for the U.S. As historians have noted, the Army during and after Vietnam fell into decay — a conscript force rife with racial antagonisms, drug abuse and disciplinary failures. Soldiers were disillusioned, the uniform seemed tarnished in a nation that no longer cared, and once proud traditions had given way to progress measured by infamous “body counts.” But in the late ‘70s and the ‘80s, reforms in recruitment, living conditions, planning, training and leadership restored much of what had been lost: self-respect and professionalism in an all-volunteer service.
He became a colonel in 1975, a brigadier general in 1978, a major general in 1982 and a lieutenant general in 1986. Alternating between administrative and command jobs, he moved from personnel and planning to brigade posts in Alaska and Washington state, from the Pacific Command in Hawaii to a division in Europe and back to Washington in charge of personnel.
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. Revolutionaries had staged a coup, killed the prime minister and, with Cuban aid, were building an air field, purportedly to supply Latin American insurgents. It was also feared that American medical students on the island might become hostages. Operation Urgent Fury suppressed the rebels, restored order and brought the students home safely.
In 1988, 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. 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.
Audiences saw live missiles striking targets and fighters taking off from aircraft carriers. Cable news delivered continuous reports, and networks anchored newscasts from Baghdad. In Riyadh, Schwarzkopf controlled the flow of information in briefings. Some reporters were allowed into the field, subject to military supervision and censorship. The result was a dramatic war — and a highly visible commander in fatigues.
The ground war was over in a few days, thanks to what he called his “left hook” strategy, in which he placed forces behind enemy lines for a swift, decisive strike.
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.
Reaction to general’s death
“With the passing of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, we’ve lost an American original. From his decorated service in Vietnam to the historic liberation of Kuwait and his leadership of United States Central Command, Gen. Schwarzkopf stood tall for the country and Army he loved. Our prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family, who tonight can know that his legacy will endure in a nation that is more secure because of his patriotic service.” — President Barack Obama.
“Barbara and I mourn the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation. A distinguished member of that ‘Long Gray Line’ hailing from West Point, Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomized the ‘duty, service, country’ creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises. More than that, he was a good and decent man — and a dear friend. Barbara and I send our condolences to his wife, Brenda, and his wonderful family.” — former President George H.W. Bush.
“With the passing of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, America lost a great patriot and a great soldier. 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. He was a good friend of mine, a close buddy. I will miss him. My wife, Alma, joins me in extending our deepest condolences to his wife, Brenda, and to her family.” — former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“The men and women of the Department of Defense join me in mourning the loss of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose 35 years of service in uniform left an indelible imprint on the United States military and on the country. The son of a decorated Army officer, Gen. Schwarzkopf followed his father’s legacy of service by enrolling in West Point in the 1950s. His bravery during two tours in Vietnam earned him three Silver Stars, and set him on the path lead our troops into battle in Grenada, and then to take charge of the overall allied effort in the first Gulf War as commander of United States Central Command. Gen. 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, Gen. 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. My thoughts and prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family in this time of sadness and grief.” — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“I was saddened to learn today of the passing of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a fellow West Point graduate, former CENTCOM commander and one of the 20th century’s finest soldiers and leaders. I join the civilian and military leaders of our country, and servicemen and women, past and present, in mourning his death. Gen. Schwarzkopf embodied the warrior spirit, serving with distinction in three conflicts over his 35 years of dedicated service. The hallmark of his remarkable career was the swift and decisive victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces after they invaded Kuwait. The thoughts and prayers of the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Force are with Gen. Schwarzkopf’s family and friends.” — Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.