WASHINGTON — Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., the hard-charging U.S. Army general whose forces smashed the Iraqi army in the 1991 Gulf War, has died at the age of 78, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
The highly decorated four-star general died at 2:22 p.m. at his home in Tampa, Fla., said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Schwarzkopf, a burly Vietnam War veteran known as “Stormin’ Norman,” commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 allied forces in a six-week war that routed Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, capping his 34-year military career.
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who built the international coalition against Iraq, said he and his wife “mourn the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation,” according to a statement released by Bush’s spokesman.
Bush has been hospitalized in Houston since late November.
Some experts hailed Schwarzkopf’s plan to trick and outflank Hussein’s forces with a sweeping armored movement as one of the great accomplishments in military history. The maneuver ended the ground war in only 100 hours.
Schwarzkopf was a familiar sight on international television during the war, clad in camouflage fatigues and a cap. He conducted fast-paced briefings and toured the lines with a purposeful stride and a physical presence of the sort that clears barrooms.
Little known before Iraqi forces invaded neighboring Kuwait, Schwarzkopf made a splash with quotable comments. At one briefing he addressed Saddam’s military reputation.
“As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist,” he said, “he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he’s a great military man, I want you to know that.”
Schwarzkopf returned from the war as a hero and there was talk of him running for public office. Instead he wrote an autobiography titled “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” and served as a military analyst.
He also acted as a spokesman for the fight against prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 1993.
Schwarzkopf was born August 22, 1934, in Trenton, N.J., the son of Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., the head of the New Jersey State Police. At the time, the older Schwarzkopf was leading the investigation of the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son, one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century.
The younger Schwarzkopf graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1956. He also earned a masters degree in guided-missile engineering from the University of Southern California and later taught engineering at West Point.
Schwarzkopf saw combat twice — in Vietnam and Grenada — in a career that included command of units from platoon to theater size, training as a paratrooper and stints at all the blue-ribbon Army staff colleges.
He led his men in firefights in two Vietnam tours and commanded all U.S. ground forces in the 1983 Grenada invasion. His chestful of medals included three Silver and three Bronze Stars for valor and two Purple Hearts for Vietnam wounds.
In Vietnam, he won a reputation as an officer who would put his life on the line to protect his troops. In one particularly deadly fight on the Batangan Peninsula, Schwarzkopf led his men through a minefield, in part by having the mines marked by shaving cream.
In 1988, Schwarzkopf was put in charge of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, with responsibility for the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. In that role, he prepared a plan to protect the Gulf’s oil fields from a hypothetical invasion by Iraq. Within months, the plan was in use.
A soldier’s soldier in an era of polished, politically conscious military technocrats, Schwarzkopf’s mouth sometimes got him in trouble. In one interview, he said he had recommended to Bush that allied forces destroy Iraq’s military instead of stopping the war after a clear victory.
Schwarzkopf later apologized after both Bush and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney fired back that there was no contradiction among military leaders to Bush’s decision to leave some of Saddam’s military intact.
After retirement, Schwarzkopf spoke his mind on military matters. In 2003, when the United States was on the verge of invading Iraq under President George W. Bush, Schwarzkopf said he was unsure if there was sufficient evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons.
He also criticized Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense at the time, telling the Washington Post that during war-time television appearances “he almost sometimes seems to be enjoying it.”
(Reporting by David Alexander and Ian Simpson; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Paul Simao)