Saturday, February 6, 2021

A burst of gun fire

‘Left the hotel at the usual side entrance and headed for the car - suddenly there was a burst of gun fire from the left. S.S. Agent pushed me onto the floor of the car & jumped on top. I felt a blow in my upper back that was unbelievably painful. I was sure he’d broken my rib. The car took off. I sat up on the edge of the seat almost paralyzed by pain.’ This is Ronald Reagan - born 110 years ago today - recording in his diary the attempt made on his life just a couple of months after he’d been elected president for the first time. His diary, though not rich in philosophical or psychological depth, is remarkable for having been written every day he was in office, and for the wide range of subjects, political and personal, that he records. 

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on 6 February 1911 in Tampico, Illinois, to a salesman of Irish Catholic descent. He attended high school in Dixon and then Eureka College where he studied economics and sociology, played American football, and acted in school plays. On graduating, he became a radio sports announcer. However, a screen test in 1937 won him a contract in Hollywood, and a successful acting career followed. In 1940, he married fellow actor Jane Wyman (twice previously married) with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1948 (Jane would go on to marry twice more to the same man!), and Reagan married Nancy, also an actor, in 1952. They, too, had two children.

From 1947 to 1952, and from 1959 to 1960, Reagan served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, during which time he testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. From 1954 to 1962, he hosted the weekly television drama series The General Electric Theater, and he toured the US as a public relations representative for General Electric, giving pro-business talks speaking out against too much government control and wasteful spending. By this time, a youthful enthusiasm for Democratic politics had turned into support for Republican policies. In 1964, he gave a well-received televised speech for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and two years later, in his first race for public office, Reagan won the governorship of California; he was reelected to a second term in 1970. 

On his third attempt, in 1980, Reagan won the Republican presidential nomination. He went on to defeat President Jimmy Carter by a large margin, and a clear majority of the popular vote. Two months after his inauguration as president, he survived an assassination attempt. At home, he undertook policies to reduce the federal government’s reach into the daily lives of citizens and to cut taxes to spur growth (dubbed ‘Reaganomics’). Increased military spending and deregulation of business were other priorities. With regard to foreign policy, he called the Soviet Union ‘the evil empire’, and fuelled the Cold War with aid to anticommunist movements in many parts of the world. In 1983, he launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a plan to develop space-based weapons. That same year, he authorised an invasion of Grenada after a coup by Marxist rebels. During Reagan’s second term (1985-1989) when he was reelected by a landslide, he forged a diplomatic relationship with the reform-minded Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, and challenged him to dismantle the Berlin Wall.

In 1994, Reagan revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 2004, was given a state funeral in Washington, D.C., and was buried in the grounds of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (which had been opened in 1991). Further information on Reagan is readily available at Wikipedia, The White House,, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or The Miller Center.

Reagan has the distinction of being one of a handful of American presidents who kept a detailed diary in office ( even when in  hospital recovering from an assassination attempt).  In 2005, Nancy Reagan gave permission for the five volumes of her husband’s thick, maroon, leather-bound diary books to be transcribed. The Reagan Library Foundation partnered with HarperCollins (which is said to have paid over a million pounds for the rights) to have them published in 2007 as The Reagan Diaries (edited by Douglas Brinkley). According to Wikipedia an edited version of the diaries reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. A review can be read at The Nw York Times website. The actual diaries are on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The full text (coupled with the so-called White House Diary - a daily schedule of meetings and events attended) is available on the library’s website and is the source of the following extracts.

11 February 1981
‘High spot a Nat. Security Council meeting. We have absolute proof of Soviet & Cuban activity in delivering arms to rebels in El Salvador - Also their worldwide propaganda campaign which has succeeded in raising riots & demonstrations in Europe & the U.S. Intelligence reports say he [Castro] is very worried about me. I’m very worried that we cant come up with something to justify his worrying.’

8 April 1981
‘My day to address the Bldg. & Const. Trades Nat. Conf. A.F.L.-C.I.O. at the Hilton Ballroom - 2 P.M. Was all dressed to go & for some reason at the last min. took off my really good wrist watch & wore an older one.

Speech not riotously received - still it was successful.

Left the hotel at the usual side entrance and headed for the car - suddenly there was a burst of gun fire from the left. S.S. Agent pushed me onto the floor of the car & jumped on top. I felt a blow in my upper back that was unbelievably painful. I was sure he’d broken my rib. The car took off. I sat up on the edge of the seat almost paralyzed by pain. Then I began coughing up blood which made both of us think - yes I had a broken rib & it had punctured a lung. He switched orders from W.H. to Geo. Wash. U. Hosp.

By the time we arrived I was having great trouble getting enough air. We did not know that Tim McCarthy (S.S.) had been shot in the chest, Jim Brady in the head & a policemen Tom Delahanty in the neck.

I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes. It was then we learned I’d been shot & had a bullet in my lung.

Getting shot hurts. Still my fear was growing because no matter how hard I tried to breathe it seemed I was getting less & less air. I focused on that tiled ceiling and prayed. But I realized I couldn’t ask for Gods help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me. Isn’t that the meaning of the lost sheep? We are all Gods children & therefore equally beloved by him. I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold.

I opened my eyes once to find Nancy there. I pray I’ll never face a day when she isn’t there. Of all the ways God has blessed me giving her to me is the greatest and beyond anything I can ever hope to deserve.

All the kids arrived and the hours ran together in a blur during which I was operated on. I know it’s going to be a long recovery but there has been such an outpouring of love from all over.

The days of therapy, transfusion, intravenous etc. have gone by - now it is Sat. April 11 and this morning I left the hospital and am here at the W.H. with Nancy & Patti. The treatment, the warmth, the skill of those at G.W. has been magnificent but it’s great to be here at home.

Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve him in every way I can.’

18 April 1981
‘A nice quiet day - no emergencies, slept in late but still managed an afternoon nap. Wrote a draft of a letter to Brezhnev. Dont know whether I’ll send it but enjoyed putting some thoughts down on paper. 9 P.M. and we’re off to bed.’

19 April 1981
‘A beautiful Easter morning. In the afternoon Rev. Louis Evans & his wife called and brought us communion. They made it a most meaningful day.

Watched some T.V. in bed and saw Gloria Steinem take me over the coals for being a bigot and against women. Either she is totally ignorant of my positions which I doubt or she is a deliberate liar.’

12 February 1983
‘Found out some of our people stayed in West Wing all night rather than try to go home. Near 5 P.M. temperatures in the 40’s. Snow has been melting but still too deep to see any lawn. George B. & Bud McFarlane came by to tell me Neimeri of Sudan cites a reliable source that Khadafy is planning air action against Sudan to coincide with insurgent attacks from the South. We have A.W.A.C.S. planes available over Egypt to vector Egyptian planes if this proves reliable. George and Obie Shultz coming to dinner & we’ve run a movie.’

15 February 1983
‘Meeting with Repub. Cong. leadership. Our 2 Georges reported on their trips to Europe & Asia. They were roundly praised by all present. Then we got into a budget discussion & how the ec. was doing. It was a really upbeat meeting. Had an intelligence briefing on the Palestinian situation. It was pretty sobering. There are hundreds of thousands - indeed mils. scattered throughout the Middle East. All look upon Israel & the West bank as their natural homeland. There are already 1,700,000 of them in that area. Did a Q&A in the family theatre preparing for press conf. tomorrow night. Home to wood shed for that exam. Almost forgot - Geo. Shultz sneaked Ambassador Dobrynin (Soviet) into the W.H. We talked for 2 hours. Sometimes we got pretty nose to nose. I told him I wanted George to be a channel for direct contact with Andropov - no bureaucracy involved. Geo. tells me that after they left, the ambas. said “this could be an historic moment.” ’

30 March 1986
‘The weather was in & out but I managed to ride every day although one day was in fog, one in light rain & one in a strong wind but with sunshine. All in all it was a good trip and Barney, Dennis & I got in some trail clearing etc.

During our stay got a night time call re the bombing of the Disco in W. Berlin where 50 or so of our servicemen were wounded & killed. Evidence is adding up that the villain was Kadaffy although that hypocrite went on T.V. to say “it was a terrorist act against innocent civilians & he wouldn’t do such things.”

Roy Miller came up one day with our income tax forms. We really need tax reform!! Final day, Ron & Doria came up - that was our rainy day ride.

Sun was coming out today - Sunday of course because we had to leave. Ride home uneventful & here we are in the W.H.’

4 April 1986
‘No ranch chores today. Dressed up in our town clothes & helicoptered (1 hr. & 20 min’s.) down the Coast to a place between Newport & Laguna to the beautiful home of retired Gen. & Mrs. William Lyon. A reception & lunch for about 50 people - prospective donors & donors to the Presidential Library. A meeting 1st with architect of Library - it’s going to be magnificent. Then a receiving line & photos - some mix & mingle & lunch. I spoke briefly then back in the chopper & back to the ranch about 4 P.M.’

See also Poindexter, Reagan and Bush

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