He slept on a cot in bunkers alongside his men. He shared their hardships, their tinned food, their thick black coffee and slugged back slibobitz until he alone was still standing. He was a legend, a monster, and a coward.
Now Ratko Mladic, the son of a wartime resistance fighter killed by a Nazi-supporting Croat, sits in a cell in Serbia waiting to face a war crime tribunal in The Hague.
A professional soldier, he rose to international attention and notoriety as commander of the Yugoslav National Army's 9th Corps which fought Croats in the Serb enclave of the Krajina.
The following year he took over as the leader of the military for the Serb Republic following the Bosnian Muslim declaration of independence in 1992.
He immediately set about the blockade of Sarajevo. His men shelled the city, they strafed civilians with anti-aircraft cannon and his snipers picked off men, woman and children on its streets from their nests.
This set the tone for his command, a boozy nationalistic strategy of bullying which mutated quickly into 'ethnic cleansing' a term coined by his boss, Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadjic.
His excesses were often matched with military success. Hugely outgunning Bosnia's Muslims, who were subjected to the same arms embargo imposed on the whole of former Yugoslavia, he was able to squeeze them into ever smaller enclaves 'protected' by United Nations forces - most of whom chose to interpret their mandate to protect civilians as doing very little.
This culminated in the massacre at Srebrenica where Mladic was filmed reassuringly patting the face of Bosnian boys while the women were sent away in buses.
For two weeks in July 1995, Srebrenica's men and boys were systematically murdered by Mladic's men - who recorded their atrocities on video which will now form the most damning evidence against Mladic at the Hague.
The loyalty which he generated, much perhaps by sharing in the commission of atrocities in a form of 'blood brotherhood', ensured that he was able to evade capture by international and Serb government forces for 16 years.
But for those who survived Sarajevo, he will remain a livid scar.
Three years spent scuttling from door to door, anxiously peering down the streets towards the Serb held hillsides and hoping that the snipers can't see around the curtains hung between buildings, is not something people get over - or will forget, much less forgive.