Thursday, 18 July 2013


Each American president enjoys a honeymoon period when they first take office with high approval ratings and an administration not yet tainted by the daily realities of political turmoil.  Quite how long it lasts,  no one can say, but there's usually a defining moment when the honeymoon has most definitely ended.  In the case of the 40th President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, that minute capsule of time (2.27pm EST, 30th March 1981) is the subject for this month's 'Iconic Photograph' which captures the very moment when the US almost lost its new president..

Just 69 days after having taken the Oath of Office, President Reagan was at the Washington Hilton Hotel, to address a gathering of labour representatives.  He'd been there just forty-five minutes before his departure when he emerged from an entrance and crossed to his limousine, waving warmly to waiting spectators and supporters and smiling his customary 'B' movie star grin.

That's when the honeymoon stopped.  Six gunshots, fired in less than two seconds, shattered the gaiety and ease of the moment. Undoubtedly, Regan was the target, but his would-be assassin, it transpired was a lousy shot.  One John Hinkley, he had bought a small handgun in a Dallas pawnshop days earlier,  apparently motivated by a fixation with the film Taxi Driver and the actress, Jodie Foster.  He would subsequently be acquitted of attempted murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility due to mental illness.

Still, his shots caused near mortal mayhem, striking three Secret Service agents and White House Press Secretary, James Brady, who would be left permanently paralysed.  His fifth bullet harmlessly hit a store window, however, the sixth, though it also missed the President, struck instead the presidential limousine, but then ricocheted off the car's armour plating hitting the President beneath the left underarm just as he was, literally, flung into the vehicle by his security detail.

Once inside the car which departed the scene at high speed it was assumed the President had been uninjured but events changed rapidly when he began coughing up blood.  Instead of a return to the security of the White House the driver was instructed to make straight for the George Washington Hospital.  While Reagan was able to walk into the hospital unaided he soon collapsed inside and it would transpire that he was suffering from a collapsed lung  and the trauma of a bullet that had stopped just an inch from his heart.

Our photograph shows the astonishing moment of split second reaction by Secret Service agent, Jerry Parr (to the right of the President) as he shields the President and bundles him, at speed, into the waiting limousine.   While Reagan appears to grimace its not possible to say whether he has been struck by the final bullet yet.

A more familiar picture of this scene (see below) shows the chaos, out of sight to the right, as the gunman is bundled to the ground and then covered in protection to avoid a repeat of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald (President Kennedy's assassin), however our iconic image conveys more economically the very peril of that moment when the name of Ronald Regan could well have joined the likes of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.  Tragic American figures slain at the hands of lone assassins.


Watch Ronald Reagan on the Larry King Show recalling his attempted assassination:  

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