Reagan Assasination Attempt

Published: 1981
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI
Agents tend to Presidential Press Secretary James Brady and a wounded police office after subduing John Hinckley Jr. (right background), who got off six rounds at President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. Photo by Don Rypka/UPI

Nick Charles: Republican President Reagan used his charisma and charm early in his Administration to win the confidence of Congress and the American people. His honeymoon with the Capital Hill lawmakers lasted well beyond his first 100 days, despite democratic control in the House.

On March 30th following a speech at a Washington hotel, he was greeted by a friendly crowd, light applause and then gunfire. President Reagan had been shot while leaving the hotel in an assassination attempt. There were screams of fear and rage.

Roger Giddens was on the scene when it happened …

Roger Giddens: "President Reagan was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel after a speech to a labor group. He waved to a small crowd waiting near his motorcade. Six shots rang out. Mr. Reagan was shoved into the safety of the bulletproof limousine. The car roared off, leaving behind three wounded men. A Secret Service Agent, a D.C. police officer and White House News Secretary James Brady.

"At first, it seemed that Mr. Reagan had escaped unscathed; but a few minutes later, he arrived at George Washington University Hospital. The President walked into the building, but stumbled and went down on one knee before he was lifted to a stretcher.

"First official word on the President's condition came from Secretary of State Alexander Haig … "

Alexander Haig: "'We have informed our friends abroad of the situation. The president's condition as we know it is stable, now undergoing surgery.'"

Roger Giddens: "But Haig, in the turmoil of the moment, made a misstep that would haunt him long after … "

Alexander Haig: "'As of now, I am in control here.'"

Roger Giddens: "Later after the President left the operating room, his longtime aide, Lyn Nofziger, provided some extraordinary details about that harrowing afternoon …"

Lyn Nofziger: "'He had told Mrs. Reagan, "Honey, I forget the duck", and then when he got into the operating room, he looked at the doctors and he said, "Please tell me you're Republicans."'"

Roger Giddens: "Dr. Dennis O'Leary, the hospital spokesman, was equally upbeat in answering reporters' questions about the President's postoperative condition … "

Dr. Dennis O'Leary: "'He was never in any serious danger, and the bullet was really not very close to any vital structure.'"

Roger Giddens: "O'Leary's account was on the rosy side: Mr. Reagan was in serious danger. But by early summer, the President was back to horseback ridding and chopping wood.

"And there are two postscripts: John Hinckley, the accused assailant, attempted to hang himself, but was cut down in time.

"And Jim Brady, shot in the forehead, partially paralyzed, left the hospital for good just before Thanksgiving, his comeback prescribed by doctors as nothing short of a miracle.

"This is Roger Giddens."