Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the American-led forces that crushed Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and became the nation's most acclaimed military hero since the midcentury exploits of Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, died on Thursday in Tampa, Fla. He was 78.

The general, who retired soon after the gulf war and lived in Tampa, died of complications arising from a recent bout of pneumonia, said his sister Ruth Barenbaum. In 1993, he was found to have prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated.

In Operation Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf orchestrated one of the most lopsided victories in modern warfare, a six-week blitzkrieg by a broad coalition of forces with overwhelming air superiority that liberated tiny Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, routed Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard and virtually destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, all with relatively light allied losses.

Winning the lightning war was never in doubt and in no way comparable to the traumas of World War II and the Korean conflict, which made Eisenhower and MacArthur into national heroes and presidential timber. But a divisive Vietnam conflict and the cold war had produced no such heroes, and the little-known General Schwarzkopf was wreathed in laurels as the victor in a popular war against a brutal dictator.

A combat-tested, highly decorated career officer who had held many commands, served two battlefield tours in Vietnam and coordinated American landing forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, he came home to a tumultuous welcome, including a glittering ticker-tape parade up Broadway in the footsteps of Lindbergh, MacArthur and the moon-landing Apollo astronauts.

"Stormin' Norman," as headlines proclaimed him, was lionized by millions of euphoric Americans who, until weeks earlier, had never heard of him. President George Bush, whose popularity soared with the war, gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Congress gave him standing ovations. Queen Elizabeth II made him an honorary knight. European and Asian nations conferred lavish honors.

In his desert fatigues, he was interviewed on television, featured on magazine covers and feted at celebrations in Tampa, Washington and other cities. He led the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville and was the superstar at the Indianapolis 500. Florida Republicans urged him to run for the United States Senate.

Amid speculation about his future, a movement to draft him for president arose. He insisted he had no presidential aspirations, but Time magazine quoted him as saying he someday "might be able to find a sense of self-fulfillment serving my country in the political arena," and he told Barbara Walters on the ABC News program "20/20" that he would not rule out a White House run.

Within weeks, the four-star general had become a media and marketing phenomenon. Three months after the war, he signed a $5 million contract with Bantam Books for the world rights to his memoirs, "It Doesn't Take a Hero," written with Peter Petre and published in 1992. Herbert Mitgang, reviewing the book for The New York Times, called it a serviceable first draft of history. "General Schwarzkopf," he wrote, "comes across as a strong professional soldier, a Patton with a conscience."

All but drowned out in the surge of approbation, critics noted that the general's enormous air, sea and land forces had overwhelmed a country with a gross national product equivalent to North Dakota's, and that while Iraq's bridges, dams and power plants had been all but obliterated and tens of thousands of its troops killed (compared with a few hundred allied casualties), Saddam Hussein had been left in power.

Postwar books, news reports and documentaries — a flood of information the general had restricted during the war — showed that most of Iraq's elite Republican Guard, whose destruction had been a goal of war planners, had escaped from an ill-coordinated Marine and Army assault, and had not been pursued because of President Bush's decision to halt the ground war after 100 hours.

"The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf" (1995), by Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times and the retired general Bernard E. Trainor, portrayed a White House rushed into ending the war prematurely by unrealistic fears of being criticized for killing too many Iraqis and by ignorance of events on the ground. It cast General Schwarzkopf as a second-rate commander who took credit for allied successes, blamed others for his mistakes and shouted at, but did not effectively control, his field commanders as the Republican Guard slipped away.