Former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig dies at age 85

Saturday, February 20, 2010

US Secretary of State Haig speaks to the press after the attempted assassination of US President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.
Image: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Retired four-star general and former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig died Saturday morning of complications from an infection at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland at the age of 85.

A West Point graduate and decorated veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, Haig served as commander of US forces stationed in Europe and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He also held top advisory posts in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations. Haig furthermore unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.

Despite his distinguished military and political career, Haig was never able to fully live down his internationally televised response to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

"As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the Vice President," Haig said hours after the shooting.

Some saw the comment as a calculated usurping of Vice President George H.W. Bush's authority and as a purposeful disregard of the overall chain of command.

In his own defense, Haig later told the media that what he said earlier was done "to reassure Americans" that the White House was functioning during the absence of Vice President Bush whom was flying back to Washington, D.C. from Texas at the time of the shooting.

In a press conference on Saturday, US President Barack Obama described Haig as a valued public servant who "exemplified our finest warrior-diplomat tradition of those who dedicate their lives to public service."

Haig "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," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later added.