We don't have a lot of national heroes anymore, but Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf surely was one. With a swagger straight out of John Wayne central casting, he led the Desert Storm blitz that pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991 and America loved him for it.
News of his death in Tampa due to complications from pneumonia came Thursday night, and it seems that more than an era passed. Schwarzkopf personified an attitude that said, "Yes we can!" And then he got it done. The nation needs more of that.
He talked big and backed it up at a time when world history was at a crossroads. He said what was on his mind and no one had to ask what he meant.
He volunteered for two tours of duty in Vietnam starting in 1966. He won three Silver Stars, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and three Distinguished Service Medals. Queen Elizabeth knighted him. Other foreign leaders sought his company.
People hung the nickname "Stormin' Norman" on him, but he didn't like that much. Those who knew him best said he much preferred to work quietly. Maybe that's why he liked the nickname "The Bear."
"We were sitting under the trees one day at the old gun club in Tampa, and he says, 'Can you believe this?' " close friend Brad Grabill said. "I asked what he meant and he said, 'Why I got picked to do this is beyond me.' I think he was referring to a more God-chosen role in his life because he saw himself as just a regular guy.
"People would come up to him in restaurants and thank him, and he'd say, 'Hey, I was just one of 1.5 million people over there.' He was so down to earth. He loved a good joke. He could take a joke. It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact he is gone. I'm going to miss him."
And as we learned up close when Schwarzkopf decided to live his retirement years in Tampa, this was a man dedicated to helping others first.
"He was a great patriot," friend Ken Cochran said. "And he served our community in a most admirable fashion."
Maybe he liked it here because Tampa is the kind of town where a hero can blend in. Although he was a celebrity of the highest rank, he was able to live on his terms.
He was dedicated to conservation and an effective spokesman on prostate cancer, having survived a bout with it. He was heavily involved in an annual sporting clays event in North Tampa that raised about $5 million over eight years for charity.
Out of that came a smaller shooting tournament that raised much-needed money for the Children's Home.
"We were having a conversation one day and I asked him why he didn't run for political office because there wasn't anything he couldn't win," Grabill said. "He said, 'You're probably right, but look at all the other problems we have in this country — poverty, sick kids, all of it. That's where I can best spend my capital, helping those people. Not politics.' "
That's Schwarzkopf's blueprint for a life well-lived. Lives like that leave large footprints, the kind only heroes make.