After 34 years in the Army, Gen. Stanley McChrystal left behind legions of admirers and the prospect that his reputation as a ferocious fighter would one day eclipse the costly comments that appeared in Rolling Stone.
"Over the past decade, arguably no single American has inflicted more fear, more loss of freedom and more loss of life on our country's most vicious and violent enemies than Stan McChrystal," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during an emotional retirement ceremony on Friday, marking the end of the general's career.
Before a crowd of a few hundred friends, family and colleagues on the Fort McNair parade grounds under an oppressively hot July sun, McChrystal said his service didn't end as he hoped. But he regretted few decisions he had made on the battlefield, cherished his life as a soldier and was optimistic about his future.
"There are misconceptions about the loyalty and service of some dedicated professionals that will likely take some time, but I believe will be corrected," he said.
McChrystal, the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, was fired last month after the magazine published an article titled "The Runaway General" that quoted scathing remarks he and his aides made about their civilian bosses.
McChrystal complained President Barack Obama had handed him "an unsellable position" on the war. The general's closest advisers mocked other government officials, including Vice President Joseph Biden, as fools who were ignorant of the complexities of war. "Biden? Did you say, 'Bite me?"' one aide is quoted saying. Soon after the article was published, McChrystal was sent packing.
In his 18-minute farewell tribute before the VIP-studded crowd, McChrystal made light of the episode. He warned his comrades in arms: "I have stories on all of you, photos of many, and I know a Rolling Stone reporter."
Wearing his own Army combat uniform for the last time, the four-star general received full military honors, including a 17-gun salute and flag formations by the Army's Old Guard. Senior military and defense officials, including Gates, have said they agreed with Obama's decision to fire McChrystal but were crestfallen by the loss of a gifted colleague.
McChrystal was a seasoned special operations commander who made his reputation hunting down members of al-Qaida in Iraq, and helping turn around the course of that war.
In 2009, he was picked as top commander in Afghanistan to replace Gen. David McKiernan, who was removed from his post by an Obama administration anxious to chart a new course in the war.
The White House is allowing McChrystal to keep his four stars in retirement, even though Army rules would have required him to serve another two years at that rank.