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Norman Schwarzkopf
Norman Schwarzkopf
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Norman Schwarzkopf Biography

Commander, Operation Desert Storm

Norman Schwarzkopf Date of birth: August 22, 1934
Date of death: December 27, 2012

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  Norman Schwarzkopf

From childhood, H. Norman Schwarzkopf dreamed of a military career. His father had gone to West Point and served in World War I. When the United States entered World War II, Schwarzkopf senior returned to active duty and rose to the rank of brigadier general.

At war's end, General Schwarzkopf was stationed in Iran, where he helped organize and train the national police force. Twelve-year-old Norman and the rest of the family joined him there in 1946. For the next few years, young Norman went to school in Iran, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. He became fluent in French and German and went from being an indifferent student to an outstanding one.

Norman Schwarzkopf Biography Photo
After returning to the United States, he followed in his father's footsteps at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Besides his military studies, Norman played on the football team, wrestled, sang and conducted the chapel choir. He graduated from West Point in 1956 with a Bachelor's of Science in mechanical engineering and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant.

He received advanced infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia, before his first assignment, as executive officer of the 2nd Airborne Battle Group of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Next came stints with the 101st Airborne, and with the 6th Infantry in West Germany. He was aide-de-camp to the Berlin Command in 1960 and 1961, a crucial time in the history of that divided city.

Norman Schwarzkopf returned to the United States and earned a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California. His special field of study was guided missile engineering.

By 1965 he was back at West Point, teaching engineering. More and more of his former classmates were heading to Vietnam as advisors to the South Vietnamese army and, in 1965, Norman Schwarzkopf applied to join them. As task Force Advisor to a South Vietnamese Airborne Division, Schwarzkopf was promoted from Captain to Major. When his tour of duty in Vietnam was over, he returned to his teaching post at West Point.

Norman Schwarzkopf Biography Photo
In 1968, Major Schwarzkopf became a Lieutenant Colonel. In this same year, he married Brenda Holsinger and attended the Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, Kansas. As U.S. casualties in Vietnam mounted, Colonel Schwarzkopf became convinced it was his duty to apply his training and experience there, where they might save the most lives. In 1969, Colonel Schwarzkopf returned to Vietnam as a battalion commander.

One of the most remarkable incidents in a distinguished career happened on this tour. When Colonel Schwarzkopf received word that men under his command had encountered a minefield, he rushed to the scene in his helicopter. He found several soldiers still trapped in the minefield. Schwarzkopf urged them to retrace their steps slowly. Still, one man tripped a mine and was severely injured but remained conscious. As the wounded man flailed in agony, the soldiers around him feared that he would set off another mine. Schwarzkopf, also injured by the explosion, crawled across the minefield to the wounded man and held him down so another could splint his shattered leg. One soldier stepped away to break a branch from a nearby tree to make the splint. In doing so, he too hit a mine, killing himself and the two men closest to him, and blowing the leg off of Schwarzkopf's liaison officer. Eventually, Colonel Schwarzkopf led his surviving men to safety. He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery but, more importantly to Norman Schwarzkopf, he cemented his reputation as an officer who would risk anything for the soldiers under his command.

Norman Schwarzkopf Biography Photo
Before the tour was up, Colonel Schwarzkopf would earn three Silver Stars and be wounded again. In 1971, he returned to the United States in a hip-to shoulder body cast. The Army sent the young Colonel to speak to civilian groups about the war, and Schwarzkopf was shocked at the depth of public hostility to the war and, increasingly, to the military. He came to believe that the government had embarked on a military venture with unclear objectives, no support from the public and a confused strategy that made victory impossible. For a time, he considered leaving the service, but determined that he would stay, and that any war fought under his command would be conducted very differently.

For the next 20 years, Schwarzkopf worked his way up the ladder, alternating between administrative positions in Washington, and command assignments with infantry divisions throughout the U.S. and in Germany. In 1978 he attained the rank of Brigadier General. Schwarzkopf's star continued to rise. He was promoted to Major General, and given command of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Norman Schwarzkopf Biography Photo
Within a year of receiving his second star, General Schwarzkopf found himself leading troops into battle. A coup had taken place on the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. With Cuban assistance, the Grenadian revolutionaries were building an airfield which U.S. intelligence suspected would be used to supply insurgents in Central America. It was also feared that Americans studying on the island might be taken hostage. Since an amphibious landing was called for, the entire operation was placed under the command of an admiral, but General Schwarzkopf was placed in command of U.S. ground forces. He quickly won the confidence of his superior and was named Deputy Commander of the Joint Task Force. While the Grenada operation proved more difficult then its planners had anticipated, the coup was quickly thwarted. Order was restored, elections scheduled, and the American students returned home unharmed.

In 1988, he received his fourth star and became a full general. He was appointed Commander in Chief of the U.S. Army Central Command. The Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa Florida, is responsible for operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. In his capacity as commander, Schwarzkopf prepared a detailed plan for the defense of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf against a hypothetical invasion by Iraq. Within months, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Schwarzkopf's plan had an immediate practical application.

General Schwarzkopf was Commander in Chief of U.S. Forces in Operation Desert Shield, undertaken to prevent Iraq from moving against Saudi Arabia. Between August and January, he assembled 765,000 troops from 28 countries (541,000 were American), hundreds of ships, thousands of planes and tanks. When prolonged negotiations failed to dislodge Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Desert Shield became Desert Storm.

Norman Schwarzkopf Biography Photo
Allied forces carried out a six-week aerial bombardment of Iraq, to disrupt or destroy enemy communications, supply lines and infrastructure. Schwarzkopf feigned an amphibious landing on Kuwait, drawing the bulk of Iraqi forces and exposing their west flank to the Allied advance. Allied troops advanced quickly through Kuwait and into Iraq. With their communications destroyed, their supply lines cut and the Allies within 150 miles of Baghdad, the Iraqis began to surrender in massive numbers. Iraq accepted a cease-fire and, after only 100 hours, the ground fighting was over. Total casualties of the Allied forces were 115 killed in action, 330 wounded in action.

The General returned home to jubilant public celebrations and victory parades in New York, Tampa, and Washington, and addressed a joint session of Congress. General Schwarzkopf retired from the Army in 1992 and wrote his autobiography, It Doesn't Take a Hero in collaboration with Peter Petre. The General's decorations include five Distinguished Service Medals, three Silver Stars, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, and decorations from France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

For many years after his retirement from the military, General Schwarzkopf maintained an active schedule of speaking engagements. In later years, he used his fame to raise public awareness of prostate cancer. In retirement, he enjoyed hunting, fishing and skeet shooting. He was a serious music lover whose tastes ran from grand opera to country and western. Norman and Brenda Schwarzkopf had three children: Cynthia, Jessica and Christian. General Schwarzkopf died of complications of pneumonia in Tampa, Florida at the age of 78.

This page last revised on Dec 28, 2012 11:25 EDT
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