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June 5, 2004
Where Were You When Reagan Was Shot? When He Changed The World?

Every generation has one or two seminal events that sear into our memories, so much that we can always recall exactly where we were and what we were doing at the moment we heard or saw it. Ronald Reagan's death reminds me of the assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, that almost killed him just as he started his term in office.

A 17-year-old college student at the time, I worked as a clerk for the local Sears store in the Los Cerritos Mall, and decided to come in to work on my day off to work as a floater. Normally I worked in the men's clothing department, but instead the office assigned me to the toy department, a choice assignment for a weekday, since the kids would all be in school and I could spend most of my time watching the televisions in the adjacent department.

When I first walked upstairs, I noticed an unusual crowd of people watching television, including a number of employees. I immediately sensed something wrong, and asked someone I knew what happened. She told me, "Reagan got shot." I looked up at the television to see a replay of the now-famous clip of Reagan, his hand frozen in the air as his easy and cheerful smile disappeared in slow motion. Over and over we watched as James Brady took a bullet in his brain and Tim McCarthy, Reagan's Secret Service agent, took one in the stomach while other agents threw the President into the limousine.

Then we waited for some word on whether he would live or die.

It seemed like an ongoing circus in the days before 24-hour news; we'd switch from one network to another, hoping to get some new information and instead watched the same clip, over and over again. No one bought anything in the TV department that day. Instead, we hoped, prayed, and comforted each other while we all wondered if the shooter was a nutcase or part of an attack on the US by another nation or terrorists, like the PLO. No one knew.

Most of us called our families and friends, having the same conversation over and over again: "Did you hear? Have you seen the video? Has anyone said if he's alive or dead?" You'd ask these questions or get asked them, the same answers would be spoken, and then you'd turn around and have the exact same conversation with someone else. It was all you could do, and in the days before widespread access to CNN and more than a decade before the Internet, those calls were the only action we could take.

Despite his age and his serious wounds, God or Providence or dumb luck (you choose) gave Ronald Reagan another twelve good years of life in order to change the world. I know I will always remember March 30, 1981 in a similar way to 9/11 and the Challenger explosion, but more than those events, I will always remember when Reagan changed the world, helped to free half a continent from the Iron Curtain, and consign the murderous tyranny of communism to the dustbin of history. I am forever thankful that we were granted that extra time with Reagan.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 5, 2004 6:30 PM

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Tracked on June 5, 2004 8:10 PM

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