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Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the U.S.-led forces that crushed Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and became the nation’s most acclaimed military hero since the midcentury exploits of Gens. Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, died Thursday in Tampa, Fla. He was 78.

The general, who retired soon after the Gulf War and lived in Tampa, died from complications of pneumonia. In 1993, he was found to have prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated.

In Operation Desert Storm, Gen. Schwarzkopf orchestrated one of the most lopsided victories in modern warfare, a six-week blitzkrieg by a broad coalition of forces with overwhelming air superiority that liberated tiny Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, routed Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard and virtually destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, all with relatively light allied losses.

Winning the lightning war was in no way comparable to the traumas of World War II and the Korean conflict, which made Eisenhower and MacArthur into national heroes and presidential timber. But a divisive Vietnam conflict and the Cold War had produced no such heroes, and the little-known Gen. Schwarzkopf was wreathed in laurels as the victor in a popular war against a brutal dictator.

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A combat-tested, highly decorated career officer who had held many commands, including at Fort Lewis, served two battlefield tours in Vietnam and coordinated U.S. landing forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, he came home to a tumultuous welcome, including a ticker-tape parade up Broadway in the footsteps of aviator Charles Lindbergh, MacArthur and the moon-landing Apollo astronauts.

“Stormin’ Norman,” as headlines proclaimed him, was lionized by millions of Americans who, until weeks earlier, had never heard of him. The first President George Bush, whose popularity soared with the war, gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Congress gave him standing ovations. Queen Elizabeth II made him an honorary knight. European and Asian nations conferred lavish honors.

Florida Republicans urged him to run for the U.S. Senate. Amid speculation about his future, a movement to draft him for president arose. He insisted he had no presidential aspirations, but Time magazine quoted him as saying he someday “might be able to find a sense of self-fulfillment serving my country in the political arena,” and he told Barbara Walters on “20/20” that he would not rule out a run for the White House.

“Never say never,” he said.

Three months after the war, he signed a $5 million contract with Bantam Books for the world rights to his memoirs, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” written with Peter Petre and published in 1992.

All but drowned out in the surge of approbation, critics noted, was that the general’s enormous air, sea and land forces had overwhelmed a country with a gross national product equivalent to North Dakota’s, and that while Iraq’s bridges, dams and power plants had been all but obliterated and tens of thousands of its troops killed (compared to a few hundred allied casualties), Saddam had been left in power.

Moreover, postwar books, news reports and documentaries — a flood of information the general had restricted during the war — showed that most of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard had escaped from an ill-coordinated Marine and Army assault, and had not been pursued because of Bush’s decision to halt the ground war after 100 hours.

“The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf,” by Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times and the retired Gen. Bernard Trainor, portrayed a White House rushed into ending the war prematurely by unrealistic fears of being criticized for killing too many Iraqis and by ignorance of events on the ground. It cast Gen. Schwarzkopf as a second-rate commander who took credit for allied successes, blamed others for his mistakes and shouted at, but did not effectively control, his field commanders as the Republican Guard slipped away.

Old official photographs show a medaled military mannequin, a 6-foot-3-inch 240-pounder with grim, determined eyes. But they miss the gentler man who listened to Luciano Pavarotti, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan; who loved hunting, fishing and ballet; and, like any soldier, called home twice a week from the war zone.

Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was born on Aug. 22, 1934, in Trenton, N.J., one of three children of his namesake and the former Ruth Bowman.

At 18, he dropped the Jr. and his first name but kept the initial. His father, New Jersey’s first State Police superintendent, investigated the 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping; he was also a West Point graduate, fought in World Wars I and II, became a major general and trained Iran’s national police in the 1940s.

Young Norman studied in Iran and in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, then followed in his father’s footsteps to West Point, graduating in 1956 with an engineering degree. After stints in the U.S. and abroad, he earned a master’s degree in engineering at the University of Southern California and later taught missile engineering at West Point.

In 1966 he volunteered for Vietnam and served two tours, first as a U.S. adviser to South Vietnamese paratroops and later as a battalion commander in the U.S. Army’s Americal Division. He earned three Silver Stars for valor — including one for saving troops from a minefield — plus a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and three Distinguished Service Medals.

In 1968 he married Brenda Holsinger. They had three children: Cynthia, Jessica and Christian.

After his retirement in August 1991, Gen. Schwarzkopf was a military analyst for NBC and went on the air for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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