Getting shot hurts

A page from Ronald Reagan’s diary, written in hospital as he recovered from an assassination attempt
Photo by Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

On 30th March 1981, as he emerged from a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel and headed towards a waiting limousine, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was hit by a bullet from the gun of would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr. The President, initially unaware that he had been shot, was quickly rushed to hospital with the bullet lodged in his lung, mere inches from his heart; three others, including White House Press Secretary James Brady, were also wounded in the attack. Days later, as he recovered in hospital, Reagan described that fateful day in his diary.

The Diary Entry

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.

Further Reading

Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary almost every day of his eight-year presidency, and those entries can be read on the website of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. In 2007 they became a bestselling book, The Reagan Diaries, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas G. Brinkley.

Diary entry reprinted here courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. Used with permission.

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