The seemingly no-nonsense Desert Storm commander’s reputed temper with aides and subordinates supposedly earned him that rough-and-ready moniker. But others around the general, who died on Thursday in Tampa, Flordia, at age 78 of complications from pneumonia, knew him as a friendly, talkative, even jovial figure who preferred the somewhat milder sobriquet given by his troops: “The Bear”.
That one perhaps suited him better later in his life, when he supported various national causes and children’s charities while eschewing the spotlight and resisting efforts to draft him to run for political office.
He lived out a quiet retirement in Tampa, where he’d served his last military assignment and where an elementary school bearing his name is testament to his standing in the community.
Schwarzkopf capped an illustrious military career by commanding the US-led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991 — but he managed to keep a low profile in the public debate over the Second Gulf War against Iraq, saying at one point that he doubted victory would be as easy as the White House and the Pentagon predicted.
Schwarzkopf was named commander in chief of US Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base in 1988, overseeing the headquarters for US military and security concerns in nearly two dozen countries stretching across the Middle East to Afghanistan and the rest of central Asia, plus Pakistan.
When Saddam invaded Kuwait two years later to punish it for allegedly stealing Iraqi oil reserves, Schwarzkopf commanded Operation Desert Storm, the coalition of about 30 countries organised by the US president George HW Bush that succeeded in driving the Iraqis out.
At the peak of his postwar national celebrity, Schwarzkopf — a self-proclaimed political independent — rejected suggestions that he run for office, and remained far more private than other generals, though he did serve briefly as a military commentator for NBC.
Schwarzkopf was born Aug 24, 1934, in Trenton, New Jersey, where his father, Col H Norman Schwarzkopf, founder and commander of the New Jersey State Police, was then leading the investigation of the Lindbergh kidnap case.
As a teenager Norman accompanied his father to Iran, where the elder Schwarzkopf trained the national police force.
Young Norman studied there and in Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, then followed in his father’s footsteps to West Point, graduating in 1956 with an engineering degree. After stints in the US and abroad, he earned a master’s degree in engineering.
In 1966 he volunteered for Vietnam and served two tours, first as a US adviser to South Vietnamese paratroops and later as a battalion commander in the US army’s Americal division. He earned three silver stars for valour — including one for saving troops from a minefield — plus a bronze star, a purple heart, and three distinguished service medals.
While many career officers left military service embittered by Vietnam, Schwarzkopf was among those who opted to stay and help rebuild the tattered army into a potent, modernised all-volunteer force.