By People Staff
December 30, 1991 12:00 PM

Norman Schwarzkopf likes to joke that he is having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. As the four-star general who led U.S. and allied troops to a quick and decisive victory in the Persian Gulf in February, his orders were obeyed by 800,000 men and women. But now that he has retired to Cheval, a country-club community near Tampa, he tells audiences, “I can’t get a plumber to come to my house.”

This capacity for humorous self-deprecation is just one of the reasons that Americans are still enamored of the general who ran Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait—and lost only 376 U.S. troops in the process. He rid the country of the phantoms of self-doubt that had haunted it since Vietnam. He ignored the military tradition of tight-jawed stoicism that forbade unseemly displays of public emotion. And he said what was on his mind. Even after his victory became tarnished by its aftermath—Saddam’s survival and brutal revenge on the Kurds, disturbing reports of U.S. casualties from friendly fire—his star has declined only slightly, a testament to his personal qualities rather than the grand dimensions of his triumph. “It’s difficult to go down in history as a great general if it’s not a great war,” says scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. “He did fine, but Desert Storm is not going to go down in history like World War II.”

Since retiring from the Army in August, Schwarzkopf, 57, is spending more time with his wife, Brenda, and their three children, Cindy, 21, Jessica, 19, and Christian, 14. He also manages to get in some fishing, hunting and skeet-shooting, and even attended an opera gala in New York City. He delivers a speech or two a month (for which he receives an estimated $60,000 per) under strict conditions: no tape recorders, no transcripts—and no interviews.

The Schwarzkopf who was chided by pundits for being too accessible is now Mr. Inaccessible. He is saving his thoughts for his memoirs, on which he spends most of his time. The book will be published next fall by Bantam, which paid more than $5 million for world rights. After that, who knows? But he plans to keep busy. “General MacArthur said old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” Schwarzkopf tells audiences. “I would rather not fade.”