We should remember, especially today, the day of his death, that Alexander Haig, Jr. was in charge, if only briefly, the day President Reagan was shot. He was much lampooned for his statements to the press that fateful day. He got things wrong according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. As Secretary of State, he was not next in line to be sworn in as President. But that was never the issue. The Vice President was in transit. Haig was next in line to take charge of the White House Situation Room. The country was in the midst of an unknown, potentially disastrous situation. The President had been shot. As he took charge, he became de facto President of the United States. He wielded the entire might and power of the United States Military. He took charge under standing directives, not under his own initiative. It was not the moment to explain how government really works. A few reporters understood. By the end of the day they were effectively drowned out. If a response was necessary, an immediate response, he was there to make that decision. He put potential enemies of the United States on notice that the Ship of State had a Captain. Our leadership was seamless.

When the Vice President arrived, he stepped down. The shooting, as everyone knows, was a random act. Bush went on to become President. Haig was eventually dismissed. He showed his military mettle when he took charge. A lesser man might have pondered the gravity of the situation. He might have called around for advice, formed an ad hoc committee, consulted with his legal advisors. He might have done a hundred things to avoid the inevitable. If the shooting of the President had been the first phase of a coordinated attack, and there was no reason to assume it was not, Alexander Haig, Jr. today would be considered a hero. Perhaps we should try to remember him as he was.