On this date 30 years ago …

… President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. as he emerged from the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Reagan had been at the hotel to address an AFL-CIO conference.

As with many such attempts, the perpetrator was six doughnuts short of a dozen mentally.  Hinckley had an acute obsession for Jodie Foster of all things.  His attempt to kill The President was an equally unusual effort to impress Foster.  The assassination attempt closely paralleled the storyline of the movie Taxi Driver, where the character Travis Bickle (Played by Robert DeNiro) plots to assassinate a presidential candidate.

Oddly enough, the Bickle character was based in part on Arthur Bremer, who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972.

Unlike many such events where people can instantly recall where they were when it happens, I have been trying all day to recall where I was and what I was doing that day. 

In theory I would have been at my new federal job that afternoon, having been hired the previous April.  But for some reason the recesses of my oft stilted memory give me flashes of being home, watching the events unfold shortly after they had occurred. 

I’m guessing my murky recollections are at least partly accurate.  Why I might have been home that day, I have no idea.  Sick day perhaps … But I was such a dedicated employee, it’s hard to accept. 

OK … Maybe not that hard to accept.

Part of the problem might have been that I was hardly a fan at all of President Reagan at the time.  As mentioned elsewhere here, I had severe issues with the then new President that had me a bit verklempt at times.  But as some pundits theorize, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan may have kick-started the country’s – and my own – eventual love affair with the 40th President.

But let’s take a look at those other individuals whose lives and careers where greatly affected by Hinckley’s actions.

Secret Service Agent-in-Charge Jerry Parr was famously credited for dumping the President into his awaiting limo; recognizing Reagan’s injuries; and re-directing the White House-bound driver to George Washington University Hospital.  This despite missing Reagan’s injury at first and getting a verbal drubbing from the shocked and hurting President, who thought Parr had broken presidential ribs when he landed on the Chief Executive in the limo.

But the real heroes in the protection detail that day were Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. patrolman Thomas Delahanty.  The D.C. officer was struck in the back when he turned to protect the President.  Agent McCarthy took a bullet to the abdomen as he bravely put his body between the shooter and Reagan’s only method of egress.  Both men were fortunate in that they recovered from their wounds.

It is interesting to see McCarthy standing large and tall as the shooting starts, while military members of the White House detail can be seen hitting the ground.  This illustrates the difference in training between the military, counseled to make themselves small targets when the lead starts flying, and that of Secret Service Agents, instructed to stand in front of a bullet to protect their charges. 

Not nearly so lucky was Reagan Press Secretary James Brady, who was struck in the head and never recovered entirely from his wounds.  He would spend years in a wheelchair, but eventually recovered most of his speech function and mobility.  Brady’s experience led him and his wife to found the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  And the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was named in his honor.

It is also interesting to compare the modern-day threats to U.S. Presidents as compared to the simpler days when Chief Executives – up to the time of Harry Truman – were generally free to walk the streets of Washington (or New York or Philadelphia).  When Truman barely avoided a run-in with Puerto Rican nationalists, the days of carefree presidential outings ended.   

From the sad days that followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy,  I’ve seen way too many such attempts.  And maybe that’s why I’m not too quick in recalling the specifics of this one. 

Rest easy, Mr. Reagan.

5 thoughts on “On this date 30 years ago …

  1. I was a high school lad that day (a junior).
    [First, a reminiscence]: I had met the president-elect four months earlier while on a field trip to the Capitol (quite a feat for a kid from California). Two friends and I had bugged out on a meeting with our local congressman…we wandered the halls of the Capitol (my visit last summer showed that can’t happen anymore)…there was a minor hullabaloo near the Senate Majority leader’s office door, two sections of that velvet rope (brass stanchions) had been put up by the door. I asked a page what was going on. He said the President-elect was on his first visit to the Capitol since the election and had been meeting with some senators..’he’ll probably be out soon”, “through that door?!?”, I replied. The page was dumbstruck,”umm, yeah”, as if I had no idea that wasn’t the only door. I convinced my friends to hang out for a few minutes- it was the three of us, a couple of pages, and a couple of guys in dark suits. A moment or so later Reagan came out, I shouted, “Hi, I’m from California too, Congratulations!” while sticking my open hand out over the velvet rope…he turned from his entourage and came over, shook my hand and thanked me for the greeting…my chums from school got in on the action and each got a handshake with “we’re from California, too”, he shook their hands without comment (while smiling)…
    [back to 30 years ago today]
    March 30, 1981 was my very first day in the work force, a friend of my mom had arranged a job as a stockroom helper in a retail store…I showed up after school; everyone there knew I’d met Reagan a few months before (I grew up in a small town)..I got started learning the ropes, and after an hour the owner arrived, he looked at me and said that he thought I was brave to come to work on such a day- in light of having met the man…did I want to go home? (umm this has got to be a test, right?)..no, I’m fine, I’m here to work… the boss was rattled, spent a few minutes at his desk, then went home….I heard later that he was impressed that I hung in there on such a day….wound up working for him for 3 years…pretty good for a teenager.

  2. Good presentation on the assassination attempt and all things RWR, including Air Force One at the Simi Valley Reagan Library

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