Obituary: General Calvin Waller

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The Independent Online
Lieutenant-General Calvin A.H. Waller was less well-known than General Colin Powell, the chairman of the United States chiefs of staff at the time of the Gulf War, or than the theatre commander-in-chief, General Norman H. Schwartzkopf. As Schwartz-kopf's deputy, however, and later as army commander in the Gulf and as a steadying influence in an excitable command structure, he was almost as important to victory as either, and some Gulf veterans regarded him as refreshingly free from the pretensions of both his seniors.

Waller was one of the generation of American officers who set about wiping the slate clean of the disastrous morale and behaviour problems of the American army in Vietnam, where he served one year as a junior officer. The Gulf War showed that, as far as the military's general performance was concerned, they had succeeded. But Waller was well-placed to observe that not all problems at the higher levels of command have been ironed out.

As an African American from a poor background in the Deep South, Waller combined deep patriotic loyalty to the United States with a strong sense of the sensitiveness of black soldiers and non- commissioned officers.

His decision to retire from the army at the relatively early age of 53 was widely taken as evidence that he was disillusioned with the confusion and prima donna behaviour he witnessed in the high command in the Gulf War.

General Schwartzkopf, though admired for his determination and also for rather surprising gifts as an alliance diplomat, was a by-word for temperament. He was given to flying into towering rages both with subordinates, whom he bullied unbearably, and - to do him justice - with superiors.

General Powell's memoirs, while generously noting Schwartzkopf's good qualities, record that the general "under pressure, was an active volcano". Richard Cheney, the Secretary of Defense in President Bush's administration, was particularly annoyed by reports that Schwartzkopf made a major reserve a place in the queue for the bathroom for him on a flight to Saudi Arabia, and made a colonel get down on his hands and knees.

A 1993 book by a Washington Post journalist, Rick Atkinson, Crusade: the Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, depicts Schwartzkopf as a megalomaniac and bully, and says that Cheney put in Cal Waller in order to calm Schwartzkopf's temper, protect the morale of his staff and "sweep up the commander-in- chief's broken crockery".

Waller was the right man for the job. He was a very different style of officer, quiet and free from arrogance. He did have the courage, however, to say publicly that the United States did not have enough troops in the Gulf to meet the United Nations' deadline of 15 January 1991 for starting the war.

Shortly after his retirement Waller was one of a small group of senior officers who endorsed President Clinton in his election campaign against President Bush. The decision may have reflected Waller's background as a black man from the Deep South, a member of a group for whom support for Democrats has been all but automatic since the 1930s. But it was also taken as expressing Waller's irritation with the Bush Administration.

When President Clinton, however, attempting to fulfill a campaign pledge, attempted to allow homosexuality in the armed services, General Waller testified before the Senate armed forces committee that this would lead to "a second rate force". "While I can sympathise with what gays are going though," Waller said, "I draw the line when gays want to openly foist their lifestyle upon soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines".

President Clinton issued a statement after Waller's death saying that the general "achiev-ed prominence as a skilful and disciplined professional and a caring and enthuastic commander". His rise from "humble beginnings" to be one of the highest-ranking African American officers in the US army, the President went on, "served as an inspiration to minority and non-minority officers".

Waller was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and educated at two local segregated colleges, Prairie View A & M University and Shippenburg State College. He served 31 years in the US Army. In the 1980s he commanded the Eighth Infantry division in Germany, and in 1989 was appointed commander of I Corps.

After his retirement, Waller went to live in Colorado and served as president and chief executive officer of RKK Ltd, an environmental technology company. In July 1995 he joined a Colorado-based environment contractor, Kaiser- Hill. He was on a trip to Washington with his wife when he died.

Calvin A.H. Waller, soldier: born Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1938; married; died Washington DC 9 May 1996.