Maj. Gen. John Kirk Singlaub, whose published remarks against pulling American troops out of Korea provoked President Carter into ordering him home for a face-to-face meeting, is "a tough, blunt, no-nonsense soldier" who has fough in three wears.
His Army associates, in portraying Singlaub that way yesterday, added that it is uncharacteristic of the highly decorated two-star general to express his strong views in newspaper interviews.
"He had strong views, all right," said one of his Army admirers, "but expressed them inside the system."
One fellow general said Singlaub "was not as cerebral" as Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, former Army chief of staff, but certainly knew that his remarks against pulling troops out of Korea ran counter to Carter's policy statements.
Singlaub, in an interview with Washington Post foreign correspondent paper, said "it will lead to war" if the United States withdrawr its ground troops from Korea over the "schedule suggested" of four to five years.
The general said in making that statement that "we want to make sure" the decision-makers know the military's views so the post-Vietnam question of whether "military people in the know" expressed themselves "loudly and clearly enough" is not raised in regard to Korea.
Saar said last night that he had reached Singlaub by telephone after the controversial interview had appeared and that the general said his published views were "exactly what I believe."
Singlaub, who is chief of staff of the U.S. command in Korea, told Saar that he originally thought the interview in the Seoul headquarters was on a background basis, but agreed to put his views on the record afterward.
Carter's angry reaction to Singlaub's views reminded Pentagon veterans of former President Truman's fuming over Gen. Douglas MacArthur's criticism of American policy during the Korean War.
MacArthur ended up getting fired, but a less drastic fate is being predicted for Singlaub, 55. Carter does not have to go that far to make the point that he will not tolerate public criticism by military leaders of his announced foreign policy intentions.
In this first public confrontation with a top military officer, Carter will be clashing with an officer with an impressive combat record, starting with World War II and continuing through the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Singlaub did not go the West Point route to reach the upper ranks of the Army, but came from the University of California ROTC unit, winning his commission as second lieutenant in 1943.
He immediately volunteered for parachute school. In 1944 he parachuted behind German lines in France to train a French resistance unit.
He left Europe in 1944 for another job in which the emphasis was on daring and stealth, leading a team of Chinese guerrillas long the India-China border. Just before World War II ended, SInglaub led a rescue team which parachuted into a Japanese prison camp on Hainan Island and freed 400 allied prisoners.
Between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War, the combat veteran was assigned to the 82d Airborne Division, and later put in charge of ranger training at Ft. Benning, Ga.
He first served in Korea as deputy chief of the CIA mission and then in 1952 commanded an infantry combat battalion. His next combat assignment was in Vietnam, where he served from 1966 to 1968, carrying out a number of secret opertions as chief of the Studies and Observation Group at the American military headquarters in Saigon.
His combat decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Croix de Guerre with Palm and Star and Combat Infantryman's Badge.
Singlaub reported to Korea last year, now holding the third-ranking job in the U.S. military command in Seoul.