Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thirty years ago: Reagan assassination attempt

On this day thirty years ago--the presidency of Ronald Reagan almost ended just ten weeks into his first term. After a luncheon speech to leaders of the AFL-CIO at the Washington Hilton, James Hinckley, a mentally-ill Coloradan obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, shot Reagan, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty, and White House Press Secretary James Brady.

Reagan was shot in the chest and suffered a punctured lung. The wounded president was quickly transported to George Washington University Hospital in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Although Reagan was able to fire off several quips in the emergency room, such as "Honey, I forgot to duck" to Nancy Reagan, and "I hope you're all Republicans" to his doctors, the Gipper went into shock and came close to dying. But the seriousness of Reagan's condition was not known until years later.

On the upper-right is the ambulance entrance to GWU Hospital. As you can see in the photograph, which I took last month, the hospital is now home to the Ronald Reagan Institute of Emergency Medicine. Reagan was hospitalized at GWU for thirteen days, by the fall of 1981 he had made a complete recovery. McCarthy also made a full recovery, Delahanty suffered nerve damage to his left arm and was compelled to retire from the police force. Brady was the most seriously wounded of the victims--he was shot in the head. He is partially paralyzed and speaks in a slurred manner.

I was a student and a dormitory resident at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1981. Radio coverage of the breaking news from a room down the hall was blaring, it awakened me from an afternoon nap. I was accustomed to the radio wake-up call, but it was usually rock music that nudged me from my slumber from that very same room. Yeah, that guy was loud.

With the exception of Delahanty, each of the victims had ties to Illinois. Reagan was born in Tampico and spent his formative years in Dixon. Brady is a Centralia native, and McCarthy, a Chicagoan, is an alumnus of the very college I was attending on that fateful day.

Reagan mural, Tampico, IL
February 6, 2011
Two months later that day echoed when Pope John Paul II was shot in Rome.

UPDATE 11:30am CDT

ThirdWaveDave, another Illinois native, writes about his March 30, 1981 recollections here. Doug Powers posted recently released Secret Service audio recordings from that day.

Related posts:

Report from Tampico, Illinois on Reagan's 100th birthday

Reagan centennial: Tampico's churches

Reagan centennial: Ronald Reagan Park in Tampico, IL

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