TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded coalition forces during the Gulf War, died Thursday, a U.S. official said. He was 78.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Schwarzkopf directed the buildup of 700,000 coalition troops. On January 17, 1991, they began a nearly six-week air assault of Iraqi forces that was followed by a swift ground campaign that pushed Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the general left an indelible imprint on the military.
"General Schwarzkopf's skilled leadership of that campaign liberated the Kuwaiti people and produced a decisive victory for the allied coalition," Panetta said in a written statement. "In the aftermath of that war, General Schwarzkopf was justly recognized as a brilliant strategist and inspiring leader. Today, we recall that enduring legacy and remember him as one of the great military giants of the 20th century."
Former President George H.W. Bush, who is hospitalized, said the general was a "true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation."
In 1988, Schwarzkopf was appointed commander of U.S. Central Command.
A Time magazine correspondent described the general, as he prepared his troops along the Kuwaiti border in 1990, as a man "with a John Wayne swagger and a growl like a grizzly."
The general earned the sobriquet "Stormin' Norman."
Schwarzkopf made a reputation as a plain-spoken commander when he gave media briefings during Operation Desert Storm.
He told a room full of his reporters: "As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man, I want you to know that."
Schwarzkopf retired in August 1991, hit the lecture circuit and briefly was a military analyst for NBC.
He wrote a book entitled "It Doesn't Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman H. Schwarzkopf."
In it, he outlined the reasons that coalition forces didn't press onto the Iraqi capital during the first Gulf War.
"Had the United States and the United Kingdom gone on alone to capture Baghdad, under the provisions of the Geneva and Hague conventions we would have been considered occupying powers and therefore would have been responsible for all the costs of maintaining or restoring government, education and other services for the people of Iraq."
Schwarzkopf wrote that had "we taken all of Iraq, we would have been like a dinosaur in the tar pit -- we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation."
A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, leading to the eventual capture of Hussein.
Schwarzkopf graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1956, according to Britannica Online.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he received three Silver Stars.
Sen. John McCain called the general "one of the great American heroes."