March 30, 1981 Ronald Reagan just 70 days into his first term was leaving the Washington Hilton after giving a speech. Outside a young man waited. He was fixated on actress Jodie Foster and was sure what he was about to do would impress her.
John Hinckley, Jr. was only 25 years old and was out to make a name for himself.
Outside the hotel onlookers and media pressed forward to see the president. Reagan appeared and his press secretary, James Brady stepped forward to field questions. Reagan waved. Hinckley pointed a .22-caliber revolver and fired six shots in two seconds. Secret Service agent Jerry Parr shoved Reagan into the waiting limousine and left.
The car headed for the White House. Agent Parr noticed Reagan was coughing blood and complaining of a sore rib. He ordered the driver to head for the hospital a mile away. This quick action by the Secret Service agent almost certainly saved Reagan’s life.
There doctors revealed Reagan was bleeding “at a rather alarming rate”, this even though he walked into the hospital. To ease his wife’s fears he joked, “Honey I forgot to duck.”
One of Hinckley’s bullets had ricocheted off the car, struck Reagan’s rib, and entered his lung. The President had gone into shock by the time surgery was started. Doctors found the bullet, which had narrowly missed his heart, and stopped the bleeding. It took them almost three hours of surgery.
The most seriously injured was James Brady who was shot in the head and wasn’t expected to survive. He did survive. Also injured was a Secret Service agent who was shot while wrestling with the would-be assassin Hinckley.
At the time it seemed Reagan wasn’t injured that badly. The public didn’t realize how close a call it was. Think of how history would have been changed if instead of having Ronald Reagan as president for eight years, he served only 70 days. How quickly things can change.