News Column

Gen. Schwarzkopf Remembered Fondly

Dec. 28, 2012

Howard Altman


Norman Schwarzkopf spent his last hours at home in Tampa, surrounded by family who shared stories that made them laugh, according to his daughter, Cindy Schwarzkopf.

The family had come to town to celebrate Christmas. While her father was in declining health, his death was unexpected, she said. He died of respiratory failure today, she said.

"My dad has been suffering from prolonged illness, Parkinson's disease, for quite some time," she said. "We have been watching his steady decline in health, but this was very unexpected, a rapid onset."

Schwarzkopf's wife, Brenda, and their daughters Cindy and Jessica and son Christian, "spent time telling all of our family stories that make us laugh, allow us to laugh at one another," she said. "There were so many stories."

She recalled her father's media briefings during Operation Desert Storm. "We were reminding him of his big win in the Jeopardy Celebrity Tournament of Champions." The time a plane load of his favorite ice cream -- Breyer's mint chocolate chip -- was sent to be distributed to the troops on the front.

"It made it a little more palatable for the family to think of all those things," she said.

Schwarzkopf was involved with many charities, said his daughter, including the Children's Home in Tampa and charities dealing with prostate cancer.

"He was a survivor," she said.

Schwarzkopf commanded U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force base from 1988 until his retirement in 1991. To those who served, he was a charismatic military leader who was a keen tactician and someone who could hold together a fragile coalition faced with a common enemy.

To people in Tampa, Schwarzkopf was the city's first -- and biggest -- rock star general.

"After he returned from the war, we went out to eat at Tio Pepe's," said John Osterweil, a memorabilia dealer and military supporter. "Everyone came up and wanted a photograph with him. They wanted him to sign menus. He graciously took time for everyone."

Former Mayor Dick Greco remembers Schwarzkopf as a humble neighbor.

"He was a great American, no question about it," Greco said. "He dedicated his whole life for me, for you, for everyone in this country."

Greco said he and the general lived a few blocks from each other on Harbour Island. The former mayor said he knew the general's health had been declining. Recently, Schwarzkopf tried to attend a charity clay pigeon shoot but was in such poor health he couldn't make it to the event.

"It hurt me to see that," Greco said. "He was a great, strong man."

Greco recalled the time he went to Super Bowl XXIX in Miami on Jan. 29, 1995. He and Schwarzkopf sat in the box of Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga; everyone at the game who ran into the general stopped him for a photo or autograph.

"Every one of the fans knew who he was," Greco said.

Huizenga's mother treated him like a celebrity because she watched him on CNN every day during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Greco said.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young said the country has lost a "real hero." "And not only for his work in a very successful mission, Desert Storm, but as a man for his work with prostate cancer," Young said. "He didn't quit and kept going."

Those who worked with him say he was "the right man at the right time."

"He was a terrific combatant commander," said Gene Deegan, a retired Marine Corps major general who now lives in Carrollwood and who served as vice director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Colin Powell during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. "His temperament, his aggressiveness, the way his subordinates thought of him made him absolutely the right guy for the job."

Geoff Lambert, a retired Army major general living in Tampa, was director of operations, plans and strategy for U.S. Special Operations Command from 1998 to 2001. He credits Schwarzkopf for understanding the value of planning for what happens after the shooting stops.

"What I liked about him was that he listened to his psychological operations and civil affairs people and made a plan to rebuild Kuwait," Lambert said. "He positively used the psychological operations and civil affairs people to make sure that pieces were in place to wrap up the war. He had insight to realize he had to have a plan beyond shooting the weapons, and that to secure victory you have a plan beyond fighting."

Many residents knew Schwarzkopf in a nonmilitary context through his charitable work and interest in the outdoors.

Bill Miller, a well-known Tampa fishing guide, met the general shortly after Desert Storm made Schwarzkopf a household name. Though the general's "Stormin' Norman" nickname supposedly came from a short temper, Miller, who spent two days near Boca Grande showing the general how to fly fish, said Schwarzkopf was gregarious, easygoing and "a regular guy."

The general liked to laugh and have a cocktail and tell stories, Miller said, like the one about when the security guard at a gated neighborhood who thought the most famous general in the world looked like "that Swartzenberger guy." "Norm laughed and he said to the guard, 'Yeah, some people say I look like Jonathan Winters, too.' "

Cindy Schwarzkopf said her father will likely be buried with his parents on the grounds at West Point, the U.S. Army military academy from which he graduated.

She said it is likely there will be a memorial or service in Tampa, "But we haven't quite gotten to that, we have a lot of balls in the air. This was very unexpected."


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)

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