Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf, his wife, Brenda, says, "loves ballet and the opera. He speaks French and German. He's very much a family man, loves spending time with our three children. And he loves magic. He used to belong to the International Brotherhood of Magicians and would put on magic shows for children's birthday parties, for the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts."

Welcome to the era of the compassionate four-star.

But as commander in the Persian Gulf over the more than 650,000 U.S. and allied troops, Stormin' Norman is not concerned with compassion when it comes to the Iraqi military -- 1,400 sorties a day, his legions lying in wait for ground action. The 6-foot-3 240-pounder talks gruffly of "kicking butt." Last October, he told Time that his strategy with Saddam would be to "suck him into the desert as far as I could. Then I'd pound the living heck out of him. Finally, I'd engulf him and police him up."

Yet Schwarzkopf, 56, a decorated and wounded Vietnam veteran, has made it clear that there are not going to be any Hamburger Hills in this war if he can help it. Early on, he joined Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in demanding adequate forces to win the war expeditiously. "I have seen in your eyes a fire of determination to get this job done quickly," he messaged his troops as the battle commenced Wednesday, "so we all may return to the shores of our great nation. ... May God be with you."

He exhibits a genuine affection for his troops, according to reports from the front. He spoke to one reporter of "the profanity that is war," and told another that "I love my soldiers and sailors and Marines and I don't want to see them killed." A Life reporter watched him reassure a frightened, newly arrived soldier slumped on her rucksack. He managed to make her smile and, telling her gently that "we'll get you home as soon as we can," gave her a goodbye salute.

As with anyone, his sense of humanity has been hard-won. In his acclaimed 1976 book "Friendly Fire," C.D.B. Bryan described how then-Lt. Col. Schwarzkopf, a battalion commander, landed in a minefield in Vietnam to rescue his men.

The remainder of the patrol was frozen in the middle of the minefield. The young soldiers were on the edge of panic. ... They had just begun again to move when a young private off to Schwarzkopf's right stepped on another mine. ... The boy's right leg was flapping out to one side. "My leg! MY LEG!" he screamed, and Schwarzkopf saw the men around him begin to panic again... .

Schwarzkopf's legs suddenly began to shake uncontrollably; his knees were so watery he had to reach down and grip them until they stilled. The perspiration was stinging his eyes. He straightened up and saw the men were watching him, waiting for him to move forward again... .

"I don't want to die," the kid was whimpering. "You've got to get me out of here."

"I'll get you out," Schwarzkopf said gently. "Just keep still. You're all right."

"I'm not! Goddam you, can't you see my leg?"

"Take it easy, son." Ten feet to go. "It's only broken; I can tell that from here."

"I've seen him go up and talk to soldiers, who are often afraid of someone with stars," says retired Gen. Louis Wagner, who has known him for years, "but they weren't afraid because he was coming to really find out what they were doing. He has a good working relationship with them, he's not the big bad guy some make him out to be."

Which doesn't mean, of course, that Schwarzkopf's famously explosive temper (hence the "Stormin' ") has mellowed. "He's demanding," says retired Gen. Robert W. Sennewald, who has worked closely with Schwarzkopf several times. "He doesn't suffer inefficiency and mediocrity too well, but if you want someone to lead you into a conflict, this is the guy you'd like to have."

Wagner, who has observed Schwarzkopf in staff work, called him "brilliant" and said he always came to meetings having done his homework thoroughly. A recent Wall Street Journal story put his IQ at 170, without giving the source.

Schwarzkopf graduated from West Point in 1956, then obtained a degree in missile engineering; his 34-year Army career has included two tours in Vietnam, several stints at the Pentagon and the position of Army adviser to the joint American task force that invaded Grenada.

The general was born in Trenton, N.J. His father, also named H. Norman Schwarzkopf (the son declines to use the "Jr."), was also a general who was assigned to train the police force in Tehran during the '40s. Stormin' Norman, then 12, spent a year there. Later his father became superintendent of the New Jersey State Police and led the investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping, hosted the old radio show "Gangbusters" and in 1953 again went to Iran where, with CIA backing, he helped organize the coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh that led to the rise of the shah of Iran.

Before the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Schwarzkopf worked out of MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa. The U.S. Central Command, the headquarters for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, is located there because no Mideast country wanted it on its turf.

"He cares about people," says Brenda, a native Virginian who was an airline hostess when she met him at a West Point football game 21 years ago and married him eight months later. "He cares about all his 'warriors of peace,' as I call them, all those wonderful men and women over there. Their safety is his main concern, he talks about it all the time."

When war broke out Wednesday night he called home and Brenda and the kids all got on different extensions. He told them he was okay and to love one another and to support one another, and they told him they were his biggest cheering section.

"Hang in there," he told them.