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Retired Secret Service agent recalls taking a bullet for Reagan

Orland Park, Ill., police Chief Tim McCarthy, 61, was a Secret Service agent on March 30, 1981. He was shot in the chest by John Hinckley Jr.

Associated Press

Orland Park, Ill., police Chief Tim McCarthy, 61, was a Secret Service agent on March 30, 1981. He was shot in the chest by John Hinckley Jr.

Thirty years ago Wednesday, Tim McCarthy set out for work at the White House in a brand-new suit.

Agents on the presidential detail in Washington, where McCarthy had been stationed for two of his 10 years with the Secret Service, typically ordered suits from a tailor in Florida. Sometimes three guys on the same detail would be wearing identical lousy suits.

"No one noticed the Secret Service anyway," McCarthy said during a recent interview.

But on March 30, 1981, McCarthy was walking beside Ronald Reagan as the president and his entourage left the Washington Hilton.

And on that day, McCarthy became the most famous Secret Service agent alive.

At 2:27 p.m., as Reagan walked to his limo outside the Hilton, John Hinckley Jr. stepped out from a crowd less than 20 feet from the president and raised a cheap .22-caliber pistol.

Press secretary James Brady was felled by the first shot, Washington, D.C., police Officer Tom Delahanty by the second. Other police and bystanders fell away as McCarthy spun to face the gunman.

The third shot was on a line to hit Reagan, a vector on which McCarthy had immediately crouched in a linebacker stance. The bullet struck McCarthy in the chest, spinning him in a half-pirouette and knocking him to the ground.

The fourth bullet slammed into the limo door as Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr lunged inside with the president. The fifth glanced off the frame of the limo, striking Reagan under the arm on the ricochet. The sixth glanced off the pavement.

Less than five seconds after the first shot, the limo squealed away to George Washington University Hospital, where Reagan nearly died from the wound.

"If Tim's not there, I'm sure that either I or the president would have been hit (by the third shot) that day," said Parr, who retired from the Secret Service in 1985 and became a minister. "The only thing between the president and this guy was (McCarthy's) big Irish body."

McCarthy is 61 now. He has recounted the assassination attempt probably thousands of times. The most common question is, "Why did you do it?" In truth, he had done the same thing hundreds of times in training drills until stepping in front of a bullet became a reflex.

"No agent thinks it will happen to them. If you stopped to think about it, you probably wouldn't do it. It's not a rational act," he said.

The bullet that hit McCarthy struck his rib, punctured his lung and diaphragm and raked his liver.

McCarthy retired in 1993 as the agent in charge of the Chicago division. He and his wife, Carol, settled in Orland Park, Ill., where McCarthy was hired as chief of police in 1994.

Brady continues to fight for gun control legislation

Jim Brady, President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was left paralyzed by the first bullet John Hinckley Jr. fired at the president's entourage. "I wouldn't be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation," he said Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference, joined by his wife, Sarah, and lawmakers in calling for gun control legislation. The Bradys head the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The Bradys were joined by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who have introduced bills to ban the kinds of large-capacity assault clips used in the January attack in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Associated Press reported.

Retired Secret Service agent recalls taking a bullet for Reagan 03/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 10:57pm]
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