Yesterday I attended the very impressive funeral for former Secretary of State, former NATO Supreme Commander, former White House Chief of Staff Al Haig — and only wish I could have made the burial at Arlington, to which I had intended to go, but I was feeling under the weather. One of the two eulogists was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose precise and well-chosen words made clear just what a patriot, a public servant, and a man of integrity Haig was. Of course a real Who’s Who of American leaders paid their respects, from Defense Secretary Bob Gates to former UN Ambassador John Bolton, former Sec. of State Colin Powell, former Attorney General Ed Meese, and (I believe — I thought I saw from a distance) former Sen. Paul Laxalt, who was President Reagan’s closest friend in Congress.
Reaganites grumble that Haig wasn’t sufficiently on board with Reagan’s strategy that worked to take down the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and others complain that he was too supportive of the Chinese military after Tiananmen Square. Yet those issues should not hide Haig’s tremendous service and heroism throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. He served on MacArthur’s staff in Korea, left high staff jobs to take a command in Vietnam where his heroism and leadership were legendary, and then joined Kissinger’s National Security Council staff at the White House, where he took on all the toughest assignments and did them well. And, of course, when he became chief of staff during Watergate, it is widely believed that Haig kept the White House and the government running without further disaster even as President Nixon, by some accounts, pretty much fell apart.
President Ford sent Haig to NATO, where he performed admirably at a crucial time period. And when he retired in 1979, he gave speeches all over the country that year and in 1980 that helped bolster the case for American military strength even as Jimmy Carter fumbled and cowered. I have a photo of Haig from the 1980 GOP National Convention in Detroit, at a forum where he sounded a clarion call on behalf of our armed forces that mightily impressed my 16-year-old self.
Al Haig was an American original. A brave man, a talented man, and a good one. May he rest in God’s peace, and joy.