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Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 30, 1981

All right...this is the final Throwback Thursday for the month of March.  And while I can't really say that this event that we are flashing back to is a happy occasion, it was a very important part of modern day history - one that I am sure will be making an appearance in future history textbooks.

Let's have a look at some other events that took place on March 30.

1822 - The Florida Territory is created in the United States

1841 - The National Bank of Greece is founded in Athens

1856 - The Crimean War ends following the signing of the Treaty of Paris

1867 - Alaska is purchased from Russia by William S. Seward for $7.2 million

1870 - Texas rejoins the United States of America following Reconstruction after the American Civil War

1929 - Actor Richard Dysart (d. 2015) is born in Massachusetts

1943 - Singer Jay Trainor (d. 2014) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1945 - During World War I, Austria is invaded by the Soviet Union, while the city of Danzig, Poland is liberated by Soviet and Polish troops

1949 - Following Iceland's decision to join NATO, a riot erupts in Reykjavik's Austurvollur Square

1965 - Twenty-two people lose their lives and 183 more are injured following the detonation of a car bomb outside of Saigon's American Embassy during the Vietnam War

1973 - Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein (d. 2009) is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1979 - British MP Airey Neave is killed by a car bomb outside of the Palace of Westminster

1982 - Space Shuttle Columbia lands safely in New Mexico following the completion of the STS-3 Mission

1991 - Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out Of The Dark" - the first single released since her 1990 bus accident - reaches #1 on the Billboard charts

2002 - Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother passes away at the age of 101

2003 - Actor Michael Jeter dies at the age of 50

2004 - Journalist and former host of "Masterpiece Theatre" Alasdair Cooke dies at the age of 95

2014 - Actress Kate O'Mara passes away at the age of 74

And birthday greetings go out to the following people; John Astin, Rolf Harris, Warren Beatty, Kenneth Welsh, Eric Clapton, Eddie Jordan, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, Dana Gillespie, Robbie Coltrane, Paul Reiser, Maurice LaMarche, Martina Cole, MC Hammer, Tracy Chapman, Piers Morgan, Celine Dion, Mark Consuelos, Norah Jones, and Jason Dohring.

So, as I said...this date in history that we're flashing back to today is a dark day - but it's one that I'm sure most people who are old enough to have experienced it remember as if it was yesterday.

Unfortunately, I am NOT one of those people.  I was still in the womb at the time and wouldn't be born for another seven weeks.

That's because the date is March 30, 1981.

Thirty-six years ago, a stunning event took place in the middle of Washington D.C. which had the whole world talking.  In the middle of broad daylight at 2:27 that afternoon, somebody would take some shots of the current American President at that time, Ronald Reagan.  Only instead of using a camera, they would use an actual gun.

It was the first assassination attempt on an American president in six years - an unsuccessful plot to kill Gerald Ford was foiled when the gun of the planned assassin - Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme malfunctioned.  In the case of Ronald Reagan, the end result was much different.  Reagan was shot, as were three other people.  The most seriously wounded of the four was White House Press Secretary James Brady, whose injuries from the shooting left him permanently paralyzed for the rest of his life. 

Fortunately for Reagan, he would recover from the shooting and remained as President for two full terms before being succeeded by George Bush in January 1989.  The gunman, John Hinckley Jr. was arrested and found not guilty by reason of insanity.  He would spend the next thirty-five years in psychiatric care before being released into the care of his mother in September 2016.

But what would cause John Hinckley Jr. to do such a callous crime such as assassinating the President of the United States?

Would you believe that it had to do with a girl?  In fact, one could call her one of the biggest child stars of the 1970s.

These days, Jodie Foster makes her living behind the camera as a famous director.  But during the late 1960s all the way through the 2000s, she made a living as an actress.  Who could forget her role as Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs"?  Or some of her roles during her teen years during the 1970s which included everything from "Bugsy Malone" to "Candleshoe"?

Perhaps Jodie's finest performance was in the movie "Taxi Driver", where she played the controversial role of a child prostitute opposite Robert DeNiro.  The film was a cinematic masterpiece (at least in my opinion anyway), and it earned her an Academy Award nomination at just fourteen years of age.  But while "Taxi Driver" was a huge hit for the young starlet, she would have no idea that it would be her performance in this film that would trigger John Hinckley Jr. to commit his crime.

You see, Hinckley watched Jodie's performance in "Taxi Driver".  A lot.  It is estimated that he watched the film at least fifteen times prior to 1981 and had developed an unhealthy obsession with her.  He even went so far as to tracking down where Jodie's dorm room was at Yale University and called her, sent her notes, and even tried enrolling in a writing course.  But despite Hinckley's attempts to get closer to Jodie, Jodie turned him down, and started to show the dean of the university the notes that she continued to receive.

At some point, the school had tried to contact the police department to bring Hinckley in for harassment, but the school failed to track him down.  By then, Hinckley started to put his plan into motion.

Having been a fan of "Taxi Driver", Hinckley decided to emulate the role that Robert DeNiro portrayed - a man who plotted the assassination of a U.S. Senator to try and protect Jodie's character from harm.  Hinckley had attempted to kill President Gerald Ford in 1980, but he was taken in by authorities for possession of illegal firearms, and wasn't able to follow through with the plan.  And even though Ford was in Washington at the time that Hinckley planned to take him out, the incident was not reported to the Secret Service as authorities failed to make a connection between Ford and Hinckley. 

So, Hinckley decided that he would shift his focus to the newly elected Reagan, and he believed that if he killed Reagan, he would impress Jodie Foster enough that she would immediately fall for him. 

On March 30, 1981, Hinckley made his move.  Having read his schedule printed in a copy of the Washington Star two days prior, he decided that he would meet Reagan at the Washington Hilton Hotel - where Reagan would deliver an address to AFL-CIO representatives.

While most public events would have required the President to wear a bulletproof vest (something that became commonplace after the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy), Reagan chose not to wear one as he would only be in exposure for the 30 feet between the hotel and the limousine that would take him back to the White House.  That was mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was related to the Secret Service and a "colossal mistake" that was made.  While the majority of the people in the area were screened by the Secret Service to prevent anything from happening, a small group of unscreened civilians were left standing just fifteen feet away from the area behind a rope line.  Can you guess who was part of that unscreened group?

Needless to say, the cards were set up for a perfect storm.  And as Reagan passed Hinckley on his way to the limo, that storm struck in the form of half a dozen bullets.

Reagan was struck in the abdomen.  Press Secretary James Brady took a bullet to the head.  Police officer Thomas Delahenty was struck in the neck.  Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy was shot as he dove onto the wounded President to protect him from further harm.

It didn't take long to apprehend Hinckley, and all of the wounded were immediately taken to area hospitals.  Because the brand of ammunition that Hinckley used were "Devastator" cartridges - bullets that were designed to explode upon impact - surgeons had to wear bulletproof vests to extract the bullets.  Amazingly, the bullet that struck Brady was the only one to fully explode - explaining why Brady ended up taking the most physical damage.

Although Reagan had sustained some internal bleeding and a punctured lung in the attempted assassination, he would go on to make a full recovery.  Delahanty and McCarthy also recovered, though due to the severity of his injury, Delahanty was forced to retire.  

As for Brady, even though the attack left him paralyzed, he continued to serve as Press Secretary until Reagan left office, and afterwards became a serious advocate for gun control.  As a result, the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act was passed in 1993.  Brady passed away in August 2014, and in a surprising move, his death would be ruled a homicide thirty-three years after the shooting.

The events of March 30, 1981 served as a terrifying reminder that being in political office is a very risky job.  And it's a date that for those alive during that time remains a shocking event.

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