Friday, December 28, 2012

The General

Dad first met H. Norman Schwarzkopf in October 1971. He was then a 37 year old lieutenant colonel not long back from completing his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Twice wounded, he had just been released from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was recuperating at home with his wife, Brenda, and two year old daughter, Cindy.

 Seventeen months earlier, Schwarzkopf had been commanding the Americal Division's 1st Battalion of the 6th Infantry Brigade in South Vietnam's Batangan Peninsula when a young soldier a dozen yards from Schwarzkopf stepped on a mine. The explosion punched the kid up into the air, injured Captain Bob Trabbert and Schwarzkopf himself. The soldier's right leg was flapping out to one side. "I'm going to die! We're all going to die!" he screamed. As Schwarzkopf began inching across the mine field to reach the soldier, his legs began to shake uncontrollably:

  His knees were suddenly so watery that he had to reach down and grip them until they were stilled. Perspiration stung his eyes. The men watching him, waiting for him to move again. To his astonishment, Schwarzkopf said, he suddenly thought of the sign on Harry Truman's White House desk:"The buck stops here". 
   The kid was whimpering, "I don't want to die! You've got to get me out of here."
    "I'll get you out," Schwarzkopf said. "Just Keep Still. You're all right."
     Five feet...three feet...Schwarzkopf gently lowered himself across the wounded boy's body to keep him still. "I don't want you to move around," Schwarzkopf told him. "We're going to have to set that leg." 
    Schwarzkopf needed a splint and spotted a small, waist-high tree back where he had left Trabbert and three other men. Schwarzkopf called to them to cut some splints from the tree. Trabbert pulled out his sheath knife and passed it to one of the men. The soldier took one step toward the tree and triggered another mine. 
    Schwarzkopf was horrified. Trabbert had taken the full force of the explosion. His left leg was blown off, an arm broken backward so that the bone of the elbow socket showed, and a great hole was gouged in his head. He would survive, but three other men were killed instantly.
     For having crossed the mine field to rescue the wounded private, Schwarzkopf was awarded his third Silver Star. He says he had no other choice, It was his responsibility. And by being there in the mine field taking care of the boy instead of with Trabbert, his life was saved. "But you live with those things, " he said. "You become terribly fatalistic in combat."

Dad had interviewed Schwarzkopf repeatedly for Friendly Fire, a book he wrote about an Iowa family whose son, a sergeant in one of the infantry companies in Schwarzkopf's battalions, was killed by a howitzer shell fired by his own supporting artillery in Vietnam. Another death that deeply distressed Schwarzkopf.

These were some of the experiences that helped Schwarzkopf prepare for Operation Desert Storm command. For a 1991 article that appeared in The New Republic, Dad asked Schwarzkopf if he would be disappointed if his ground forces never got the opportunity to go into battle.

   "Not in the least!" he said vehemently. "I don't want to kill one more American! I don't want to see one more American die-- be it from accident or from battle. There's no blood lust on the part of myself or anybody else around here. What we want to do is accomplish the objectives of this whole thing, get it over as quickly as we can, and get back home. And I tell you, that's the attitude of everybody from the top general down to the lowest private."

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