TAMPA — It was hot and clear as the military plane zipped through Tampa's airspace.
In front of a frenzied crowd, the plane landed, the door opened and out stepped Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, followed by soldiers returning from kicking Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
"He was larger than life," recalled U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who was at the old Tampa Stadium for that public thank you on May 5, 1991.
"He was a hero who controlled a war that was minimal cost in money and in causalities," Young said. "He went over there, dug them out of the sand, whipped Saddam Hussein's tail and sent them flying back to Baghdad."
Gen. Schwarzkopf came to Tampa in 1988 as the head of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He was ordered by then-President George H.W. Bush to initiate Operation Desert Storm, and the sweeping success of that campaign endeared him the nation and his new neighbors.
The Hillsborough County School Board named a Lutz elementary school after him.
Mark Sharpe, now a Hillsborough County commissioner, remembers what it was like to work for Gen. Schwarzkopf. Sharpe served at CentCom as an intelligence officer.
"He was just warm, a family man, brilliant and a complete patriot. He embraced the community. When he came to Central Command we had these family days and he just completely embraced it," Sharpe said. "He literally was an embracing personality and that's why the community took to him so well."
Gen. Schwarzkopf stepped down as CentComm commander in 1991, but remained in Tampa for retirement, initially renting a home in the Cheval community.
"The people of Tampa have made me and my family feel right at home the moment we moved here," he said then.
Sports — specifically, skeet shooting — played a major role in the retired general's social life.
For years, the Gen. Schwarzkopf Cup sporting clays tournament was held in his honor to support the Children's Home. It has raised more than $1 million, said Merrill Stewart, director of development at the nonprofit that supports abused and neglected children in Tampa Bay.
Former Mayor Dick Greco met Gen. Schwarzkopf at a skeet shooting event and became fast friends. Greco used to tease the retired general about the time they went to the Super Bowl in Miami and billionaire Wayne Huizenga's mother mistook him for TV personality Williard Scott.
Greco remained friends with Gen. Schwarzkopf after his retirement from the military and was his neighbor when the general settled in Harbour Island.
"It was very difficult to watch a strong, wonderful man not be in good health. He was a great American and a great sportsman," Greco said.
Gen. Schwarzkopf didn't retire from public life when he hung up his stars, and he gave his time to charities across the area, said Tampa developer Al Austin, who was a friend.
Austin discovered he had prostate cancer in March 2002 — a few years after Gen. Schwarzkopf had his own battle with the disease. The general had become an advocate for research and promoting early detection.
"He gave me advice before my surgery," Austin recalled. "He just did so many great things."
Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and U.S. senator, said he trusted Gen. Schwarzkopf so much he wanted to hand over relief operations to him after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Often people who remember Gen. Schwarzkopf recall what it was like to be with him.
"He just sucked all the air out of the room," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.