Schwarzkopf Comes Home to Hero’s Welcome


Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, virtually an unknown soldier when he left here for the Persian Gulf eight months ago, returned home Sunday to a hero’s welcome and widespread speculation about his future career.

It wasn’t the size of the crowd as much as the intensity of emotion that distinguished the homecoming given the burly, 56-year-old commander of allied forces in the Gulf War.

“You have not only proven to be a great general, a great planner and strategist . . . but a gentleman at the same time and the pride of the nation,” said Sheik Saud al Nasir al Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, who flew in from Washington just before Schwarzkopf’s arrival.


“It’s great to be home,” exclaimed Schwarzkopf, dressed in desert fatigues. “Mr. Ambassador, I’m proud to report to you that Kuwait is free.”

The general stepped off his staff plane, a Boeing 707, precisely as scheduled at 9 a.m. and, beaming broadly, snapped off a salute at the top of the stairway. Then, as he descended the stairs, he spread his arms wide to greet his family waiting on the Tarmac at MacDill Air Force Base.

The first to embrace the hero of the decisive 100-hour war against Iraq was his daughter, Cindy, 20. Also in line for hugs from the man nicknamed “The Bear” were his wife, Brenda, carrying a yellow rose and a small American flag, 18-year-old daughter Jessica, 13-year-old son Christian and the family’s black Labrador retriever, also called “Bear.”

But the welcome for Schwarzkopf, complete with martial music from the band of the 24th Infantry Division--his old unit based in Ft. Stewart, Ga.--was really a national embrace for a man who captured millions of American hearts with his battlefield prowess and plain-speaking manner.

Due to retire from the Army in August, he reportedly has been flooded with offers of executive positions in private industry, a university presidency and multimillion-dollar book contracts. Many Florida Republicans hope he will consent to represent the party in a 1992 challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

Florida GOP Chairman Van B. Poole of Tallahassee admits he has not heard from Schwarzkopf, does not know his political views and does not even know if the general could consider himself a Republican.


In a March 14 interview on ABC-TV’s “20/20,” Schwarzkopf declared himself an independent, and added: “I’m not too sure I’m cut out to be a politician.”

But Poole is not discouraged. “His friends say his philosophy is very much Republican,” the GOP official has observed. “They also say that if he had no interest, we would have heard a firm ‘no’ at the beginning.”

In addition to a horde of news reporters and photographers, the general was welcomed back to his home at U.S. Central Command headquarters by about 2,000 people, many waving flags and carrying yellow balloons with an enthusiasm that suggested that Schwarzkopf will be the most celebrated general since Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned from the Korean War in 1951.

Some in the crowd had waited all night outside the gates of the air base after the military decided at the last minute to open the ceremonies to the public. Tampa police and city officials opposed that decision, saying they feared tens of thousands could turn the main access road into a parking lot.

“I think there will be chaos on the streets of south Tampa,” warned the mayor’s press secretary, John Dunn.

The warning worked. Most people stayed home, where they could see Schwarzkopf’s arrival live on television.


“I can’t describe to you the emotion that’s in all of our hearts, especially when we hear that national anthem,” said Schwarzkopf after mounting the podium set up at the edge of the airfield. “It’s great to be an American.”

Among those cheering the general was Judy Hebert of Tampa, who was wearing a T-shirt with a likeness of Schwarzkopf’s face. “He’s a wonderful man, well-loved here even before he went over,” she said. “Now the whole world knows it.”

Schwarzkopf later had a private reunion at home with his family. They had been apart for the entire eight months he was in the Persian Gulf.

Sgt. Claude Bookhart, a communications specialist and a member of the general’s staff, was also on Schwarzkopf’s plane Sunday. Asked about the general’s plans, he said: “I think he just wants to kick back, do some fishing and spend time with the family. He didn’t talk about politics. But he seems to have a way with people. He has that leadership ability.”

The flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, took more than 18 hours. After a stop in Cairo, the jet was refueled in the air, Bookhart said.

Also arriving at the air base Sunday was a Boeing 747 painted with a big yellow ribbon that brought 380 Central Command staff members back from Saudi Arabia.


Until Schwarzkopf’s expected retirement this summer, the four-star general is slated to remain here at his headquarters in control of 250,000 U.S. troops still in the Saudi theater.

The public’s chance to cheer him will come May 5, when he will be featured at a “Red, White and Blue Troop Celebration” that is expected to draw more than 70,000 people to Tampa Stadium. He is also expected to lead the May 2 Kentucky Derby parade in Louisville and to welcome Queen Elizabeth II during her trip to Tampa on May 20.