Schwarzkopf, Commander In Gulf War, Dies At 78

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Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the Desert Storm offensive that drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait, has died. Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Tom Bowman about the much-decorated soldier.


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

General Norman Schwarzkopf has died. The military leader who earned the nickname Stormin' Norman was 78 years old. He became a household name in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, commanding the U.S.-led international coalition that drove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Joining us now is NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. And, Tom, to begin, tell us a little bit about his background. How did Schwarzkopf rise through the ranks?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, he was a West Point graduate. He - and he was an advisor in Vietnam in 1965 before he started seeing major combat there. He was an advisor to the South Vietnamese airborne unit. And then he went back to Vietnam in 1970, and he helped rescue some of his men from a minefield, actually crawling out to help them at that time, saved a number of his men. And then, you know, he rose through the ranks, typical jobs. He commanded troops in Alaska, staff jobs at the Pentagon. And then he commanded troops at Fort Lewis, Washington. And then he rose to general in 1988.

He was appointed head of central command - that's the military command that covers the Middle East. And it was in that job that he came up with a detailed plan for the defense of the oil fields in the Persian Gulf. And that was, of course, used as part of the war plan for what became known as Operation Desert Storm, which, of course, was the attack on Iraqi forces who were holding Kuwait.

CORNISH: And at that time, what was the view of how he led that mission?

BOWMAN: Well, he had overwhelming force against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait. He developed what was known as a left hook, which came into Iraq, behind the Iraqi forces, occupying Kuwait. And the ground war lasted just four days. It was deemed pretty much a success overall.

CORNISH: Of course, it's been more than 20 years since then, how has that view changed over time?

BOWMAN: Well, he's not seen as one of the great military leaders in American history. He's seen as something of a middling officer. One of the criticisms is he let some of the Republican Guard units slip away.

Tom Ricks, in his most recent book "The Generals," talks a little bit about that. And he says instead of penning in Iraqi forces at the time, Schwarzkopf's war plan pushed him out like a cork popped from a bottle. And, of course, some of these Republican Guard units lived to fight another day in the next Iraq war, starting in 2003. There were very, very tough Iraqi units that survived.

CORNISH: And, again, what do you think that General Schwarzkopf will be remembered for?

BOWMAN: Well, he was really one of the great military leaders of his day. He was seen as a great leader. After the war in 1991, there were a lot of ticker tape parades, the military was held in much higher regard than it had been in the days after the Vietnam War. So I think, in some ways, he helped burnish the military's reputation after Vietnam.

CORNISH: Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman talking about General Norman Schwarzkopf. The highly decorated general has died at age 78.

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