Saturday 27 December 2014

Stormin' Norman, the military megastar of Gulf War, dies at 78

Published 29/12/2012 | 05:00

GENERAL Norman Schwarzkopf, who has died aged 78, achieved international fame in 1991 as the commander of one of the biggest military operations since World War Two.

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in August 1990 was quickly recognised as a threat to the global oil supply. With Washington fearing that Saudi Arabia could be the next target for Saddam Hussein, President George HW Bush turned to Schwarzkopf – who was just completing a contingency plan for action by the US in the event of a war in the Middle East.

When Hussein ignored the final deadline to quit Kuwait, on January 15, 1991, Gen Schwarzkopf ordered six weeks of air attacks against key Iraqi military installations. This was followed up with a ground offensive of just 100 hours. By March 3, it was all over – Kuwait was liberated, though its oilfields were ablaze and Hussein remained in power.

Gen Schwarzkopf had expected between 10,000 and 20,000 Allied casualties. When he made his victory speech he described the toll of a few hundred as "miraculous". He added: "It will never be miraculous for the families of those people, but it is miraculous."

He returned to America on April 21, 1991, to find that his personality had made almost as big an impact on public perception as his military strategy, and that he was a celebrity. For his temper he was nicknamed "Stormin' Norman"; for his 6ft 4in, 17 stone frame, "The Bear".

Bravery

With the conflict played out almost hour-by-hour in the media, he became a familiar figure at press conferences, sporting a chestful of medals that bore witness to his bravery in two tours of Vietnam.

An autobiography, 'It Doesn't Take A Hero' (with Peter Petre) and lecture engagements made him a rich man: it was said that he was paid up to £75,000 (€91,650) for a speech.

His book reportedly earned him an advance of $5m (€3.78m). Its pages revealed the gruff, overnight military megastar to be a fine linguist, devoted to his family. Readers also discovered he was a conjurer skilful enough to have belonged to the International Brotherhood of Magicians; they were perhaps most surprised to learn that he loved opera and ballet.

He was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on August 22, 1934, the son of a US Army brigadier-general, also Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, and his wife, Ruth, a hospital matron.

Norman's idyllic early life was shattered by World War Two. With his father away, he was told at the age of seven to be "the man of the house". His mother, left with a tight budget and the burdens of bringing up two daughters and a son, became an alcoholic.

As a 10-year-old cadet at Bordentown Military Institute, near Trenton, he posed for his official photograph wearing a stern expression because – as he said afterwards – "Some day when I become a general, I want people to know that I'm serious."

Between 1946 and 1951 he was abroad with his father, continuing his studies in Iran, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

Returning to America in 1951, he won a football scholarship to Valley Force Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and the next year entered America's elite military academy, West Point, on another scholarship.

He graduated in 1956. A second lieutenant, he trained as an infantryman and a paratrooper, and then served two years with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After two years' service in Berlin, he returned to America to enrol in the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he was awarded a master's degree in guided missile engineering. He was back at West Point in 1964 on a three-year teaching course, but abandoned it when the Vietnam War intensified.

Having volunteered for battle duty, he was sent to war as an adviser with a South Vietnamese Airborne Division. Then a captain, he was soon promoted to major after surviving a 10-day siege by the communist Viet Cong guerrillas at a special forces camp at Dak To.

Between 1966 and 1968, he was back at West Point. Then in 1969, as a lieutenant-colonel, Gen Schwarzkopf returned to Vietnam as the commander of an American infantry brigade.

Soon afterwards he experienced the most terrifying episode in his life, when his battalion was moved into the Batangan peninsula. On May 28, 1970, one of his companies strayed into a minefield and triggered an explosion. One soldier was injured. Gen Schwarzkopf, who was already airborne in his own helicopter, immediately flew back to the rescue, giving up his place in the helicopter to the injured soldier.

On the ground, he started to direct the remaining soldiers towards him, only for another soldier to tread on a mine.The new victim fell, thrashing about in agony and threatening to explode other mines. His nearby comrades started to panic: "We're all gonna die!"

"Knock that bullshit off," roared Schwarzkopf. "We're gonna get you out."

Slowly, he inched towards the screaming soldier. He lowered himself to cover the man and stop his flailing.

THEN Gen Schwarzkopf asked his accompanying officer for a splint to set the broken leg. But as the medic moved, he, too, stepped on a mine, which blew off his right arm and leg. A piece of shrapnel thudded into Gen Schwarzkopf's chest. The soldiers panicked again, but their commander bellowed them into silence. It was 20 minutes before a rescue helicopter and mine detecting team arrived. Gen Schwarzkopf led his remaining men to safety, and was awarded his third Silver Star.

By 1981 he had been promoted general. He returned to action in 1983, when he was appointed commander of American ground forces and deputy commander of the joint task force that was dispatched to the island of Grenada to restore order after a Marxist group took control following the murder of the prime minister.

Gen Schwarzkopf was appointed deputy chief of staff for army operations at the Pentagon and a year later commander of 1st Corps at Fort Lewis in Washington. In November 1988, as a four-star general, he was made commander-in-chief of US Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Gen Schwarzkopf retired from the army in August 1991 on a $76,000 pension. At his tearful farewell, he was presented with five Distinguished Service Medals by Defence Secretary Dick Cheney.

Gen Schwarzkopf largely kept out of the limelight. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, but was treated successfully, and is thought to have died from pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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