Yesterday was 33 years since the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, which was just 69 days into his first term as president. This article is a repost from a few years ago.
“Honey, I forgot to duck.”
The beginning of the Reagan Presidency was very eventful. First, the hostages were freed from Iran. Then Reagan survived an assassination attempt.
The assassination attempt occurred on Monday, March 30, 1981, just 69 days into the presidency. The country was still stinging from the murder of John Lennon. There must have been something in the water. There also an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on May 13,1981, less than two months after the attempt on Reagan.
We were all glued to our TV’s on March 30, as the whole incident was captured on film. President Reagan delivered a luncheon address to AFL-CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He entered the building around 1:45, waving to a crowd of news media and citizens. While the Secret Service had made Reagan wear a bulletproof vest for some events, he did not wear one for the speech as Reagan’s only public exposure would be the 30 feet between the hotel and his limousine. Shortly before 2:30, as Reagan was leaving the hotel, and heading toward his limo, John Hinckley Jr. emerged from the crowd and fired 6 times in 3 seconds before he was taken to the ground. All 6 shots missed the president directly. The first bullet hit White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head. The second hit District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back. The third overshot the president and hit the window of a building across the street. The fourth hit Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen as he spread his body over Reagan to make himself a target. The fifth hit the bullet-resistant glass of the window on the open side door of the limousine. The sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine and hit the president in his left underarm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung, stopping nearly an inch from his heart.
There may have been flashbacks to the Kennedy assassination. When Hinckley was thrown to the ground, Agents and police officers stayed huddled on top of him to prevent someone from shooting him the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot and killed. I wonder how many sucker punches Hinckley took.
Moments after the shooting, Reagan was taken away by the Secret Service agents in the presidential limousine. At first, nobody realized the president had been hit. His ribs were in a lot of pain. He thought his rib cracked when agent Jerry Parr pushed him into the limousine. However, when the agent checked him for gunshot wounds, Reagan coughed up bright, frothy blood. Believing that the cracked rib had punctured the president’s lung, Parr ordered the motorcade to divert to nearby George Washington University Hospital.
When President Reagan was taken into the emergency room, his blood pressure was dangerously low. Then the gunshot wound was found. Although Reagan came close to death, the team’s quick action—and Parr’s decision to drive to the hospital instead of the White House—likely saved the president’s life, and within 30 minutes Reagan left the emergency room for surgery with a normal blood pressure. When his wife Nancy arrived in the emergency room, Reagan remarked to her, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” This was actually a line that boxer Jack Dempsey said to his wife the night he was beaten by Gene Tunney.
“Please tell me you’re all Republicans”
The chief of thoracic surgery, Dr. Benjamin L. Aaron, decided to operate because the bleeding persisted. Ultimately, Reagan lost over half of his blood volume in the emergency room and during surgery, which removed the bullet; the operating staff did not know the round was explosive or that it could have gone off at any time. In the operating room, Reagan joked, “Please tell me you’re all Republicans.” Giordano, leader of the trauma team, and a liberal Democrat, replied, “Today, Mr. President, we’re all Republicans.” The operation lasted about three hours. The surgery was a success, although there were complications by a fever. But it was treated with antibiotics.
Here is some NBC news coverage. It has an update on the status of the president and James Brady. One of the people who took video is also interviewed, and describes everything step-by-step:
To further prove what a bad-ass Reagan was, he was able to sign a piece of legislation the day after the operation. Reagan was the first serving U.S. President to survive being shot in an assassination attempt He left the hospital on the 13th day.
Thomas Delahanty and Timothy McCarthy recovered from their wounds, although Delahanty was forced to retire due to his injuries. The injury to Press Secretary, James Brady was much more severe. He sustained a serious head wound and became permanently disabled. Brady and his wife Sarah became leading advocates of gun control and other actions to reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States. They also became active in the lobbying organization Handgun Control, Inc. – which would eventually be renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – and founded the non-profit Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed in 1993 as a result of their work.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982. His supposed motivation was his obsession with actress Jodie Foster. He saw the movie Taxi Driver at least 15 times, apparently identifying strongly with Travis Bickle, the lead character. This character protected Jodie Foster’s character – a 12 year old prostitute. Toward the end of the movie, Bickle attempts to assassinate a United States Senator who is running for president. The years following the movie Hinckley stalked Foster, going so far as to enroll in a writing course at Yale University in 1980 when he learned that she was a student there after reading an article in People magazine.
Back when Saturday Night Live was good, they did a spoof on the coverage of the event. Beloved Eddie Murphy character Buckwheat was shot. Here is a clip from the classic skit:Follow @returntothe80s
– Joking during a microphone check. The joke was later leaked to the general populace.Follow @returntothe80s
“One legislator accused me of having a nineteenth-century attitude on law and order. That is a totally false charge. I have an eighteenth-century attitude. That is when the Founding Fathers made it clear that the safety of law-abiding citizens should be one of the government’s primary concerns.”Follow @returntothe80s
“To few of us here today, this is a solemn and most momentous occasion; and yet, in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.” – Inauguration, 1981
Inspired by BBC’s Letter from America: the Reagan years (1981-1988), which is a podcast that I recently found on iTunes, I’ll write some articles about our 40th president. Some of these I had previously written for Ronald Reagan’s centennial in 2011.
This week, we’ll start at the beginning. The Iran Hostage Crisis began while Jimmy Carter was president. Sixty-six Americans were taken captive when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, including three who were at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Six more Americans escaped and of the 66 who were taken hostage, 13 were released on Nov. 19 and 20, 1979; one was released on July 11, 1980. There were 52 hostages remaining.
I was young when this happened, but I remember it pretty clearly. I remember seeing updates on the news. And I remember hearing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” on the radio constantly:
The nation’s self esteem was down. Then the 1980 Presidential Election occurred, and Ronald Reagan won in a landslide by winning 44 states, with Carter winning in 6 states, and Washington, D.C. John Anderson did not win any states. This was the first election that I can remember pretty well.
The country’s morale was raised immediately with the Reagan Presidency as the 52 hostages were finally released after 44 days – 20 minutes after Reagan was sworn in as President. I remember thinking what a bad-ass this Ronald Reagan must be! Iran must be scared to death of him after holding those hostages so long, only to release them seemingly out of nowhere.
To date, is the oldest man elected to the office of the presidency (at 69). In his first inaugural address on January 20, 1981, which Reagan himself wrote, he addressed the country’s economic issues arguing: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”Follow @returntothe80s