Norman Schwarzkopf, the US general who led Operation Desert Storm, which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1991, has died at the age of 78.
Schwarzkopf, known popularly as “Stormin’ Norman,” died of complications from pneumonia in Tampa, where he retired after his last military posting as commander-in-chief of US Central Command.
Former president George H. W. Bush, himself sick in intensive care in Texas, was first to issue a statement mourning the loss of the man he chose to lead the war that came to define both of their careers.
“Barbara and I mourn the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation,” his statement said.
“General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomised the ‘duty, service, country’ creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises,” Bush said.
In a major test of the post-Cold War order, Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait in 1990 and looked set to roll into Saudi Arabia, which would have given him more than 40 percent of the world’s oil reserves.
Bush famously vowed: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”
He assembled a coalition of 32 nations to drive Iraqi forces out in a matter of weeks with a lightning air and ground assault.
Schwarzkopf was given command of some 425,000 US troops backed by 118,000 allied soldiers, decimating Saddam’s military machine and driving him from Kuwait without ousting him from power in Baghdad.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1934, Schwarzkopf’s connection with the Gulf began when he was just 12 and he went to Iran to join his father, who had been posted there by the US military.
Educated in Tehran, Geneva and Frankfurt before returning to the United States to pursue a military career, Schwarzkopf specialised in mechanical engineering at the renowned West Point military college.
He also attended the University of Southern California and the US Army War College.
Upon graduating West Point, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and received advanced infantry and airborne training before getting his first foreign posting as an aide-de-camp to the Berlin Brigade in 1960 and 1961.
Schwarzkopf served briefly as an instructor at West Point before heading to Vietnam to join the fast-swelling numbers of US military advisers to the South Vietnamese army.
Quickly promoted up through the ranks, his reputation for bravery was confirmed during his second tour of Vietnam in 1970 when he rescued men from his battalion who were trapped in a minefield in the Batangan Peninsula.
After rushing to the scene in a helicopter, he crawled across the minefield, held a severely wounded man down until a splint could be put on his leg, and then led survivors to safety by ordering mines to be marked with shaving cream.
His brusque and bold style was also the stuff of legend.
“When you get on that plane to go home, if the last thing you think about me is ‘I hate that son of a bitch’, then that is fine because you’re going home alive,” so one quote goes.
Schwarzkopf’s infamous temper spawned the nickname “Stormin’ Norman,” which became tabloid headline fodder during the 1991 Gulf War.
After the war, Schwarzkopf turned down the position of army chief of staff and retired from active service in August 1991.
He had been successfully treated for prostate cancer in 1993.