Washington — On April 1, 1967 a US Army lieutenant colonel named Alexander Haig was in serious trouble. His battalion, operating in Vietnamese jungles near Cambodia, was outnumbered 3 to 1 and under heavy attack.
North Vietnamese soldiers first pounded Colonel Haig's troops with more than 350 rounds of mortar fire, then attacked with human wave assaults.
Haig quickly took to the air in a helicopter. With disregard for his own safety, he flew at low altitudes to scout the attackers' positions. Result: He got the information needed for a bold counterattack.
Haig's helicopter was shot down and landed in a hail of fire. But he remained in charge, calling in artillery strikes and moving on foot to the aid of a surrounded platoon.
Men who have known Haig in both the government and Army say that the combination of intellect and courage which he displayed in that battle has been characteristic of his career. Fritz Kraemer, a former defense official who worked with Haig at the Pentagon, contends that it is exceedingly rare to find in one person the combination of qualities found in Haig -- the highest physical courage combined with intellectual brilliance, a man of action who is also an analyst.
According to Kraemer, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara considered Haig one of only two uniformed men he had ever met who had the daring to contradict his Pentagon boss to his face and then stick to his position. Haig, says Kraemer, is "one of the very few modern human beings who has total self- confidence."
Some of Haig's critics would call this "arrogance." Critics were appalled when Haig declined to judge the morality of actions taken by Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger during the Watergate period. But even his detractors in the Senate admitted after five days of hearings dealing with Haig's nomination as secretary of state that Haig displayed a combination of self-confidence, knowledge, and boldness which could make him one of this country's most effective Cabinet officers.
Haig's past record alone might lead to this same conclusion. As assistant to Kissinger on the National Security Council, he had to deal with a staggering variety of international problems. As commander of NATO forces, he was praised for carrying what were essentially diplomatic, rather than military, tasks.