The announced death of Alexander “Al” Haig brought back many memories of a man who spent six decades of his life in service to his country. Haig was born in a suburb of Philadelphia, Dec. 2, 1924. As a boy he dreamed of a military career, received an appointment to the US Military Academy and graduated from West Point with the class of 1947. He served in combat in both Korea and Vietnam. As an Army Colonel he became a military advisor to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon Administration. President Nixon promoted Haig from 2 to 4 star general, breaking tradition and passing over 240 more senior officers. He served as Chief of Staff for Nixon during the Watergate Hearings and became the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces under President Ford. He resigned from that position when President Carter created the Iranian disaster and was later appointed Secretary of State by President Reagan. He resigned due to bickering within the Reagan Cabinet. George Shultz, his successor at State described Haig as “a patriot’s patriot. No matter how you sliced him, it came out red, white and blue.”
Haig was commended and criticized by the media, because he was always at the scene of important events. The most memorable was on the day that President Reagan was victim of an attempted assassination. Haig announced the tragedy that the President had been shot and was in the hospital, Vice President Bush was out-of-town and added: “As of now, I am in control here at the White House.” Like the day Vice President Dan Quayle spelled potato “potatoe,” the liberal media made sure it was never forgotten.
Of course, he was in charge of his staff and doing his duties in the White House, but was not in charge of the nation and the free world as was implied by those who wanted to be critical.
My only direct contact with Gen. Haig was when he was Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and the principal assistant to Gen. Westmoreland who, after returning from Vietnam, became Chief of Staff of the Army. Gen. Westmoreland was at his best in fatigues visiting troops in the field and talking with them face to face. He apparently disliked routine bureaucratic paperwork and agonized over signing his name on any staff document in the Pentagon.
Staff offices would make appointments to see the Chief of Staff to get a document approved only to be sent back for more information or to make some minor change and repeat the process again and again.
Gen. Haig was the opposite. He kept his desk clean of papers. When a staff officer brought in a directive or policy paper to be approved, he looked it over quickly, may have asked a couple of questions, signed his name and the staff officer is out the door. No time was wasted.
It did not take long for the waiting line of staff officers to find a solution to the backlog. We simply watched the travel schedule of Gen. Westmoreland and when he planned to be away from the Pentagon, we would make appointments to see the Chief of Staff knowing that Gen. Hague would be acting Chief of Staff and could sign documents for Westmoreland. The backlog of documents was eliminated, Gen. Westmoreland was free to do what he liked to do best until retirement and Haig kept the Army rolling along as the Vietnam War wound down without missing a beat.
Haig was intelligent, clever and had a great sense of humor. He remained fiercely patriotic and outspoken about the antics of the UN and liberals in the US government and the media, despite his close working association with Kissinger.
A chain smoker, Haig had open-heart surgery probably 30 years ago and has been in relatively good health since, and he never lost the twinkle in his eye when he landed a solid verbal punch at the liberal jerk of the day in a television interview. After retirement from the military he never pulled punches or minced words. He was seldom seen on television after the election of President Obama, probably because the interviewer could never control what Al Haig might say. He would give them the facts as he saw them regardless of where the chips may fall.
Al Haig was a good soldier and an honest public official who did his duty and served his country to the best of his ability for as long as he was allowed to do so. His memory should be honored.