WASHINGTON -- In a heartfelt homecoming address to Congress, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf declared yesterday that he is "damned proud" to be an American soldier and told the lawmakers that it is now up to the civilians to secure peace in the Middle East.
"We dare to ask that, just as we were willing to sacrifice and win the war, you be willing to sacrifice and search to win the peace," General Schwarzkopf said.
It was the first time a general had climbed the rostrum of the House of Representatives to address Congress since Gen. William Westmoreland spoke from there 24 years ago, during the Vietnam War.
General Schwarzkopf skirted policy and politics in his speech, instead offering an emotional tribute to the troops of Operation Desert Storm, whom he called "great Americans" and "extraordinary patriots."
Senators and representatives listened as if hypnotized.
They interrupted him 16 times with roof-shaking applause and standing ovations. The U.S. Army Band played as he entered the chamber, and Desert Storm veterans invited to hear the speech stood at attention.
General Schwarzkopf paid homage to those who died, to the wounded, to veterans of Vietnam, to high-tech weaponry, to President Bush, to Congress and to the American people.
The most powerful moment came when he thanked the families of the troops. He drew a deep breath that the microphone picked up and amplified throughout the packed House chamber. He looked at his wife, Brenda, in the spectators' gallery.
"It is you who endure the separations and hardships simply because you choose to love a soldier, a sailor, an airman, a Marine or a Coast Guardsman," General Schwarzkopf said slowly. "But it is your love that gave us strength in our darkest hours."
General Schwarzkopf celebrated the role of the modern-day armed services as a unifying force in American society.
"Who were we?" he asked. "We were black and white and yellow and brown and red. And we noticed that when our blood was shed in the desert it didn't separate by race, but it flowed together, because that's what your military is."
Republican and Democratic operatives have sought to draft General Schwarzkopf into national politics, but he has shown no interest so far.
But the professional politicians who heard him speak knew they had seen real talent.
"Excellent. Stirring. Patriotic," gushed Representative Dante B. Fascell, D-Fla.