General Norman Schwarzkopf - the neighbor I only saw on television

General Schwarzkopf was considered a neighbor and friend by just about everyone in Tampa, FL. Photo: (AP Photo)

DOTHAN, AL, December 28, 2012 — About the same time I moved from New Jersey to Tampa, FL, another Jersey guy named Norman Schwarzkopf was doing the same thing but for a much bigger reason – he was running a war. The first Gulf War was masterfully orchestrated by President H.W. Bush and his wartime dream team of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Colin Powell, and General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf.  

America tends to produce great generals, and Schwarzkopf worked hard to earn his place on a list of names like George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, John Blackjack Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton. All these men were able to grasp the big picture and were brilliant at strategy, planning, organizing and inspiring everyone under their command. I’m tempted to add that Schwarzkopf had a bit of New Jersey pizzazz in addition to his other qualities.

Schwarzkopf grew up in Lawrenceville, NJ, a small hamlet tucked in between Princeton and Trenton, son to a father who served in both world wars and founded the state police force. Norman was energetic from an early age, and after graduating from West Point made two tours of duty in Vietnam.

When he returned home, he was surprised at the negative public reaction to the war and nearly quit his commission. He blamed the government for not having clear objectives and a coherent strategy for the war, the same reasons he gave years later for his disapproval of the plan to invade Iraq.

Tampa residents were scared during the Gulf War. We were on constant alert for possible terrorist action or sabotage because the city was home to MacDill Air Force Base, which served as the US Central Command, or CENTCOM, during the war. Tampa was at that time a small city and prone to rumors about bombs and infiltrators that often kept us close to home.

We had no idea when Schwarzkopf was in residence, that was kept highly secret, but we knew when activity was picking up by the increase in military air traffic over the city. We also knew right away when the base had security lock downs.

When Schwarzkopf started giving televised news briefings we all felt better and Tampa residents gave a collective sigh of relief. He exuded tremendous confidence and his general demeanor had a calming effect on everyone. There was never any doubt about the truth of his reports, and he never tried to spin things as often happens today.

After the war, Schwarzkopf bought a home in an area of north Tampa, not far from my neighborhood, called Cheval. It is a small, upscale community and home to a well-known PGA golf course. We probably shopped in the same stores and drove the same streets, but I never had the privilege of meeting him in person.

A number of my acquaintances did see him or his wife though, and “Schwarzkopf spotting” became a popular thing in our area of town. He and Brenda eventually moved to south Tampa, about 15 miles away, to an area called Harbour Island.

General Norman Schwarzkopf was not just a brilliant military leader and strategist, he was also a father figure who comforted and reassured us in troubled times. He exuded confidence and compassion for his country that made us all proud to be Americans. His passing is a loss not just to his community, family and friends, but to the entire nation.

We salute you general, our loss is heaven’s gain.    


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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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