Secret Service Honors Only Officer Killed Protecting President

Leslie Coffelt was fatally shot in 1950
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2020 4:17 PM CST
Secret Service Honors Only Officer Killed Protecting President
Leslie Coffelt.   (Wikimedia Commons)

The Secret Service honored Leslie Coffelt in a sunrise ceremony Monday, 70 years after he was killed protecting Harry Truman from Puerto Rican nationalists. The 40-year-old Army veteran is the only Secret Service officer to have died protecting a president and the agency honors him every year, Fox reports. Coffelt was shot Nov. 1, 1950 on Pennsylvania Avenue while guarding Blair House, where Truman was living during White House renovations. He was shot by pro-Puerto Rico independence activists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola as they attempted to storm the building, where the president was napping in a bedroom. "He came to work on November 1, 1950, probably not expecting anything different," said Chief Thomas Sullivan of the Secret Service Uniformed Division at the Monday ceremony, per WTOP.

"Officer Coffelt was hit three times, in the abdomen," Sullivan said in front of Blair House. "He got out of the booth, mortally wounded, fired one round at a gentleman who was trying to go up the steps here at Blair House, and hit him in the back of the head. He stopped him from going in the front door, from 31 feet away, with his revolver." Coffelt's shot killed Torresola. Collazo was arrested and sentenced to death, but Truman commuted the sentence to life in prison and he was released in 1979. Two other guards, Donald Birdzell and Joseph Down, were injured in the attack. Tim McCarthy, who was shot when John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981, is the only other Secret Service officer to have taken a bullet for a president. (More Secret Service stories.)

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