Driving Col. Schwarzkopf

Richard McGrue remembers his time in the famous general's jeep

By Kim Thompson on January 18, 2013

On December 27, 2012, the nation lost one of the great military leaders of the 20th century-General Norman Schwarzkopf. Schwarzkopf was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, but is best-known to this day for his role in Operation Desert Storm, in which he commanded the coalition that pushed Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait. His larger-than-life personality and straight-talking ways earned him the nickname "Stormin' Norman."

But long before he was a household name, Schwarzkopf's rise to leadership brought him to then Fort Lewis, first as commander of the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division in from about 1975 to 1977, and later as I Corps commander in June 1986. It was during his 1977 assignment that his path crossed with that of a local man.

At just 20 years old at the time, Richard McGrue was the youngest NCO on Ft. Lewis, but even so had earned the prestigious Expert Field Medical Badge. During his last six months at Fort Lewis, as he prepared to exit the military from the 3/39th Infantry Battalion, McGrue applied and was chosen for a special assignment-personal medic and driver for the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division commander, then Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

As medic, McGrue attended to Schwarzkopf's personal health needs as well as reported on troop medical concerns. As driver, he realized he faced an interesting challenge.

"Unbeknownst to me, my primary vehicle was to be a 4-speed Jeep, a manual stick shift, which I was not skilled to drive," recalled McGrue. "I thought I would surely lose this special assignment. This was not the case. The colonel simply said, ‘I'll teach you - in the field.' He certainly did! He had tremendous patience with me and made this OJT field driving process a significant and beneficial learning experience that has lasted me a lifetime."

McGrue never served as driver for anyone else during his service, and has fond memories of how he learned to drive a stick shift-indeed, perhaps one of the most unique learn-to-drive stories anywhere!

"It was a huge honor and a big deal to be selected for this highly competitive special assignment," says McGrue. "He was a unique, bigger-than-life personality. He was a very common sense type of leader whom everyone respected. He held his soldiers accountable, but also supported his subordinates with the right tools and counsel."

McGrue also credits the General for modeling what genuine leadership looked like.

"His influence propelled me to seek a commission as an officer, like him," he said. "As an officer, I recall doing things as I would envision him doing - a common-sense approach to leadership, especially in a military context."

McGrue later applied and was admitted to the Washington Military Academy. He was commissioned in 1984 as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Schwarzkopf was the last I Corps Commander to have an M-151 Jeep as his vehicle. When he left Fort Lewis in 1987, he donated his M-151 to the Fort Lewis Museum and has been on display ever since in the Fort Lewis Gallery. The vehicle was one of the last M-151s in service and still has Schwarzkopf's three-star vehicle plate from when he was the Corps Commander. It's impossible to know if it's the same Jeep McGrue drove all those years ago, but still, it's an interesting point to ponder.