Alexander Meigs Haig Jr. (December 2, 1924 – February 20, 2010) was a United States Army general who served as the United States Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and White House Chief of Staff under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
He also served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, the second-highest ranking officer in the Army, and as Supreme Allied Commander Europe commanding all U.S. and NATO forces in Europe.
A veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War, Haig was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart.
Haig was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, the middle of three children of Alexander Meigs Haig, Sr., a Republican lawyer, and his wife Regina Anne (née Murphy). When Haig was 10, his father, aged 38, died of cancer. His Irish-American mother raised her children in the Roman Catholic faith.
He attended Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School in North Philadelphia and graduated from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, PA in 1942. He then studied at the University of Notre Dame for two years, before transferring to the United States Military Academy, where he graduated in 1947.
Haig later earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Columbia Business School in 1955 and a Master of Arts degree in international relations from Georgetown University in 1961. His thesis examined the role of military officers in making national policy.
As a young officer, Haig served on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. In the early days of the Korean War, Haig was responsible for maintaining General MacArthur’s situation map and briefing MacArthur each evening on the day’s battlefield events.
Haig later served (1950–51) with the X Corps, as aide to MacArthur’s Chief of Staff, General Edward Almond, who awarded Haig two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star with Valor device. Haig participated in four Korean War campaigns, including the Battle of Inchon, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and the evacuation of Hŭngnam as Almond’s aide.
Haig served as a staff officer in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCSOPS) at the Pentagon (1962–64), and then was appointed Military Assistant to Secretary of the Army Stephen Ailes in 1964. He then was appointed Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, continuing in that service until the end of 1965.
In 1966, Haig took command of a battalion of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. On May 22, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Haig was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army’s second highest medal for valor, by General William Westmoreland as a result of his actions during the Battle of Ap Gu in March 1967. During the battle, Haig’s troops (of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (United States)) became pinned down by a Viet Cong force that outnumbered U.S. forces by three to one.
In an attempt to survey the battlefield, Haig boarded a helicopter and flew to the point of contact. His helicopter was subsequently shot down. Two days of bloody hand-to-hand combat ensued. An excerpt from Haig’s official Army citation follows:
When two of his companies were engaged by a large hostile force, Colonel Haig landed amid a hail of fire, personally took charge of the units, called for artillery and air fire support and succeeded in soundly defeating the insurgent force … the next day a barrage of 400 rounds was fired by the Viet Cong, but it was ineffective because of the warning and preparations by Colonel Haig. As the barrage subsided, a force three times larger than his began a series of human wave assaults on the camp.
Heedless of the danger himself, Colonel Haig repeatedly braved intense hostile fire to survey the battlefield. His personal courage and determination, and his skillful employment of every defense and support tactic possible, inspired his men to fight with previously unimagined power.
Although his force was outnumbered three to one, Colonel Haig succeeded in inflicting 592 casualties on the Viet Cong … HQ US Army, Vietnam, General Orders No. 2318 (May 22, 1967)
Haig was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart during his tour in Vietnam, and was eventually promoted to Colonel, becoming a brigade commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam.
From 1974 to 1979, Haig served as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the Commander of NATO forces in Europe, and Commander-in-Chief of United States European Command (CinCUSEUR). Haig took the same route to SHAPE every day – a pattern of behavior that did not go unnoticed by terrorist groups. On June 25, 1979, Haig was the target of an assassination attempt in Mons, Belgium.
A land mine blew up under the bridge on which Haig’s car was traveling, narrowly missing Haig’s car and wounding three of his bodyguards in a following car. Authorities later attributed responsibility for the attack to the Red Army Faction (RAF). In 1993 a German Court sentenced Rolf Clemens Wagner, a former RAF member, to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt.
In 1981, following the March 30 assassination attempt on Reagan, Haig asserted before reporters “I am in control here” as a result of Reagan’s hospitalization, indicating that, while President Reagan had not “transfer[red] the helm”, Haig was in fact directing White House Crisis Management until Vice President Bush arrived in Washington to assume that role.
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.
— Alexander Haig, Alexander Haig, autobiographical profile in TIME Magazine, April 2, 1984
The US Constitution, including both the presidential line of succession and the 25th Amendment, dictates what happens when a president is incapacitated.
However, the holders of the two offices between the Vice President and the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House (at the time, Tip O’Neill) and the President pro tempore of the Senate (at the time, Strom Thurmond), would be required under US law (3 U.S.C. § 19) to resign their positions in order for either of them to become acting President.
Considering that Vice President Bush was not immediately available, Haig’s statement reflected political reality, if not necessarily legal reality. Haig later said,
I wasn’t talking about transition. I was talking about the executive branch, who is running the government. That was the question asked. It was not, “Who is in line should the President die?”
— Alexander Haig, Alexander Haig interview with 60 Minutes II April 23, 2001
In 1980, Haig had a double heart bypass operation.
In the 1980s and ’90s, being the head of a consulting firm, he served as a director for various struggling businesses, the best-known probably being computer manufacturer Commodore International.
Haig was the host for several years of the television program World Business Review. At the time of his death, he was the host of 21st Century Business, with each program a weekly business education forum that included business solutions, expert interview, commentary and field reports.
Haig served as a founding member of the advisory board of Newsmax Media, which publishes the conservative web site, Newsmax.com.
Haig was co-chairman of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen J. Solarz. A member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Board of Advisors, Haig was also a founding Board Member of America Online.
On January 5, 2006, Haig participated in a meeting at the White House of former Secretaries of Defense and State to discuss United States foreign policy with Bush administration officials. On May 12, 2006, Haig participated in a second White House meeting with 10 former Secretaries of State and Defense.
The meeting including briefings by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, and was followed by a discussion with President George W. Bush. Haig’s memoirs – Inner Circles: How America Changed The World – were published in 1992.
On February 19, 2010, a hospital spokesman revealed that the 85-year-old Haig had been hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore since January 28 and remained in critical condition.
On February 20, Haig died at the age of 85, from complications from a staphylococcal infection that he had prior to admission. According to The New York Times, his brother, Father Haig, said the Army was coordinating a Mass at Fort Myer in Washington and an interment at Arlington National Cemetery, but both would be delayed by about two weeks due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on March 2, 2010. Eulogies were given by Dr. Henry Kissinger and Sherwood “Woody” D. Goldberg.
President Barack Obama said in a statement that, “General Haig exemplified our finest warrior-diplomat tradition of those who dedicate their lives to public service.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Haig as a man who “served his country in many capacities for many years, earning honor on the battlefield, the confidence of Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the thanks of a grateful nation.”
Alexander Haig was married to Patricia (née Fox) from 1950 until his death. The couple had three children: Alexander Patrick Haig Jr., Managing Director of Worldwide Associates, Inc., Barbara Haig, “Deputy to President for Policy & Strategy” at the National Endowment for Democracy, and Brian Haig, author and military analyst. Haig’s younger brother, Rev. Frank Haig, is a Jesuit priest and professor emeritus of physics at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Alexander Haig’s sister, Mrs. Regina Meredith, was a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and was a co-founding partner of the firm Meredith, Chase and Taggart, located in Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey. She died in 2008.