He may have channeled the no-nonsense fighting spirit and know-how of Gen. George S. Patton. He might have been this generation’s Dwight D. Eisenhower — a military hero-turned president — if he’d had the personal ambition.

He sure had the popularity.

Instead, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf pulled a Douglas MacArthur — and faded away. From the spotlight, anyway.

The military hero of the first Gulf War spent his twilight years quietly helping children and charities before his death on Dec. 27 at 78.

It’s difficult to overstate Schwarz-kopf’s importance to modern U.S. military history.

The Gulf War of 1991 was this country’s first major ground assault since the Vietnam War — and we all know how that one ended. The United States desperately needed a confidence boost, the clarity of a decisive end, and as few coalition casualties as possible.

In addition, we were taking on one of the world’s most unscrupulous, unbalanced bullies, a would-be Hitler, and the mother of all trash-talkers in Saddam Hussein.

There are probably two kinds of military heroes: the men who risk life and limb for their country and countrymen, and those visionary leaders who successfully command them. Schwarzkopf was both kinds, having earned three Silver Stars for valor, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and more in Vietnam.

The ambiguity of the first Gulf War’s end wasn’t Schwarzkopf’s doing.

Rather, he lent America’s all-volunteer Armed Forces a clarity and John Wayne-style swagger that cut off and killed any of the country’s remaining self-doubt from the Vietnam era.

He was, as any hero, the right man at the right time.

— The Augusta Chronicle,

Georgia, Dec. 30

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