Bear’s tracks

December 28, 2012 

He never liked “Stormin’ Norman,” the moniker attached to him as he rose to international fame as the face of the successful, and one-sided victory of American troops and allies over Iraq in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. Somewhere along the way, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf had acquired a nickname he preferred from his troops, “the Bear.”

And “along the way” took in a lot of territory. In a long military career, Schwarzkopf, who died Thursday at 78, won many decorations, including no less that three Silver Stars for gallantry. Though Schwarzkopf disputed the label of hero, the truth is that he had earned it.

During Desert Storm, the general controlled the flow of information and orchestrated coverage of the operation as a conductor might direct a symphony. He turned a clever phrase here and there one day and emphasized the dangers to troops and the seriousness of the operation the next. And in the aftermath of what was an overwhelming victory, Schwarzkopf received public acclaim not seen for a military leader since World War II, including a ticker tape parade down Broadway.

But he wore it well, focusing in retirement on charitable causes, participating in politics only a little, which included supporting George W. Bush in his own endeavors in Iraq. Schwarzkopf lived fairly quietly (as quietly as a famous bear-sized man could live) in Tampa, Fla., for the remainder of his years.

The military benefited, beyond his skill as a tactician, from Schwarzkopf’s command in Operation Desert Storm. Never before had a war been so televised, and Schwarzkopf was a skilled public voice. That reflected well on the troops, the mission and the country.

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