Retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Gulf War Commander, Dies at 78

PHOTO: In this Jan. 12, 1991 file photo, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf stands at ease with his tank troops during Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia; Schwarzkopf died on Dec. 27, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. at the age of 78.
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H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the retired general credited with leading U.S.-allied forces to a victory in the first Gulf War, died today at age 78.

The man who Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today called "one of the great military giants of the 20th century" died in Tampa, Fla., where he lived in retirement, the Associated Press reported.

"The men and women of the Department of Defense join me in mourning the loss of General Norman Schwarzkopf, whose 35 years of service in uniform left an indelible imprint on the United States military and on the country," Panetta said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family in this time of sadness and grief."

Schwarzkopf, called "Stormin' Norman" because of his reportedly explosive temper, led America to two military victories: a small one in Grenada in the 1980s and a big one as de facto commander of allied forces in the Gulf War in 1991.

"'Stormin' Norman' led the coalition forces to victory, ejecting the Iraqi Army from Kuwait and restoring the rightful government," read a statement by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War. "His leadership not only inspired his troops, but also inspired the nation."

WATCH: Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to Saddam Hussein: 'Get Outta Town'

Schwarzkopf's success during that fight, also known as Operation Desert Storm, came under President George H.W. Bush, who through his office today mourned "the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation."

"Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomized the 'duty, service, country' creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises," Bush said. "More than that, he was a good and decent man -- and a dear friend."

Bush's office released the statement though the former president, himself, was ill, hospitalized in Texas with a stubborn fever and on a liquids-only diet.

The current White House occupant, President Obama, also memorialized Schwarzkopf, declaring him "an American original" who "stood tall for the country and Army he loved."

The future four-star general was born Aug. 24, 1934, in Trenton, N.J.

Schwarzkopf's father, who shared his name, directed the investigation of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping as head of the New Jersey State Police, later becoming a brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

Schwarzkopf was raised as an army brat in Iran, Switzerland, Germany and Italy, following in his father's footsteps to West Point, earning an engineering degree and being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1956.

WATCH: Gen. Schwarzkopf's '5 Minutes of Unimportant Questions'

He earned three Silver Stars for bravery during two tours in Vietnam, gaining a reputation as an opinionated, plain-spoken commander with a sharp temper who would risk his own life for his soldiers.

"He had volunteered to go to Vietnam early just so he could get there before the war ended," said former Army Col. William McKinney, who knew Schwarzkopf from their days at West Point, according to ABC News Radio.

In 1983, as a newly-minted general, Schwarzkopf once again led troops into battle in President Reagan's invasion of Granada, a tiny Caribbean island where the White House saw American influence threatened by a Cuban-backed coup.

But he gained most of his fame in Iraq, where he used his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame and fearsome temper to drive his forces to victory.

"He was known as a soldier's general," said retired Maj. Gen. Donald Shepperd, as he explained the "Stormin' Norman" nickname to ABC News Radio. "In other words, he really liked the troops and was soft on the troops. But boy, on his general officers, his officers, his NCO's, he was very, very tough and he had a real quick temper."

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Gruff and direct, Schwarzkopf said during the Gulf War that his goal was to win the war as quickly as possible and with a focused objective: getting Iraq out of Kuwait.

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