A beefy physique and growling voice secured him the nickname “The Bear” yet his fiery temper and spirited military intellect fashioned his more recognizable and authentic nickname “Stormin’ Norman.” The epitome of a ‘military brat,’ Gen. Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. died on December 27, 2012 at the young age of 78. Best known as the imposing no-nonsense commander of the coalition forces during the Gulf War, too few Americans are aware of Schwarzkopf’s credentials as a true American hero.
As a Lieutenant Colonel and decorated combat officer in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf repeatedly told his men, “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.”
His father, Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr., served in the Army before becoming the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. In that capacity he worked as lead investigator on the notorious Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. Returning to the Army and achieving the rank of Major General, Schwarzkopf, Sr. said upon the birth of his progeny on August 22, 1934, “That boy is going to West Point!”
At the age of 12, Schwarzkopf, Jr. and his family joined their father in Tehran, Iran where he was stationed as a member of Operation Ajax to help form SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. Schwarzkopf, Jr. studied at the Community High School in Tehran, moved on to La Chataigneraie for studies at the International School of Geneva, attended high school in Frankfurt, Germany, and eventually graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy.
In 1956 Schwarzkopf graduated 43rd in his class at West Point with a Bachelor of Science Degree, earned a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Southern California, and later attended the U.S. Army War College.
His advanced infantry and airborne training came at Fort Benning, GA; his platoon leader and executive officer experience was earned at Fort Campbell. He served as aide-de-camp to the Commanding General in Berlin from 1960 and 1961 then instructed cadets at West Point in mechanical engineering before his first tour of duty in Vietnam.
In 1965 he served as task force advisor to the South Vietnamese Airborne Division and earned a promotion to Major. Schwarzkopf penned “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” in 1992 after the Gulf War, yet on his second tour in Vietnam in 1970 it did indeed take a hero and Schwarzkopf rose to the challenge.
Men under his command were trapped in a minefield on the notorious Batangan Peninsula, an area filled with modern-day mines as well as mines left over from the French-Indochina War and Japanese mines from WWII. Schwarzkopf rushed to the scene in his chopper, as was his custom, and urged the men to retrace their steps slowly. As they did, one soldier tripped a mine and was seriously wounded by the explosion.
Although also wounded from the mine explosion, Schwarzkopf crawled across the minefield to the flailing soldier and used a ‘pinning’ technique from his wrestling days at West Point to hold down the soldier while another splinted the shattered leg. A second soldier stepped on a mine, killing him and 2 men. Schwarzkopf’s artillery liaison officer lost an arm and leg. Eventually Schwarzkopf pulled his men to safety then ordered combat engineers to mark remaining mines with shaving cream for later destruction.
The incident cemented Schwarzkopf’s reputation as an officer that would risk life and limb to save his men. His nickname “Stormin’ Norman” was also reinforced by arguing, swearing at, and yelling via radio at any American choppers refusing to land and pick up his wounded men. Among the many medals and decorations on his uniform, an observer will find 3 Silver Stars, 3 Bronze Stars for valor, and 2 Purple Hearts for wounds received in Vietnam.
His high I.Q. and leadership abilities would gain him the stars of a general while the 1990 Gulf War secured his well-earned legacy. Critics did what they do best: criticize after the fact from the safety of an air-conditioned office without one bit of military training or the courage to don a uniform. Schwarzkopf, true to form, didn’t give them a second thought.
We’ve lost another veteran, we’ve lost a great military leader, we’ve lost a great patriot, and we’ve lost another brother.
Accolades will pour in, critics will have their usual 15 seconds of fame, perhaps a few books may be written about one hell of an American soldier, but after all is said and done Schwarzkopf would still claim, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero.”
With all due respect, sir, it does, you are, and always will be.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.aveteransstory.us