Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September 5, 1975:

Squeaky Attempts an Assassination

On September 5, 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme -- Manson Family nutjob, not quite 27 -- became the first woman known to attempt an assassination of a US president, Gerald Ford. She pointed a .45 Colt semiautomatic at the president as he was gladhanding a crowd in Sacramento, Calif., but it didn’t fire when she squeezed the trigger. She’d apparently forgotten to put a round in the firing chamber.

From an account in Newsweek the week after the attempt: “Ford awoke at 6 that morning in his sixth-floor suite at the Senator Hotel. With his usual verve, he conferred with aides and then sat through the Annual Host Breakfast of California businessmen whose 1,000 or so members gave him a rousing reception.

“Outside the hotel, the Secret Service and Sacramento police had taken what they believed were adequate security precautions. Ford was scheduled to walk up a broad, curving pathway that led to the rear steps of the capitol building, and police lines had been set up to keep the crowds in check at the left of the walk. An encouraging throng of state employees, newsmen and rubberneckers had turned out to wait for the President, and no one really noticed anything unusual when the girl in red strolled up and took a place in the crowd under a stately magnolia near the President's line of march.

“Shortly after 10 a.m., and slightly behind schedule, Ford swept through the lobby of the Senator Hotel and trotted out to the street. He blinked in the bright morning sunlight and headed for the capitol. Instantly spotting the friendly crowd, he cheerfully moved forward, double-pumping hands and smiling every step of the way. Then suddenly, recalled Karen Skelton, a 14-year-old who was standing next to the girl in red, ‘the color went out of his face.’

" ‘He was smiling and as soon as he touched my hand, he turned pale and pulled away,’ " said Irene Morrison, 28, a secretary who had turned out to see the President. The girl in red had stepped forward, reached under her dress and then straightened up. ‘I extended my left hand to her -- that's when I saw the gun,’ Ford told Newsweek’s Thomas M. DeFrank later. ‘Then Ernie [Secret Service agent Ernie Luzania] grabbed me and I was gone.’ "

“The weapon also caught the eye of Larry M. Buendorf, 37, a crack Secret Service agent, former Navy pilot and expert skier who has served as the President's body man all over the world. ‘Gun!’ he bellowed to his colleagues and he leapt forward to grab Squeaky's pistol and twist her gun hand behind her back. His shout set off an immediate action drill the Secret Service uses for emergencies. ‘Let's go,’ yelled Luzania, the acting chief of Ford's security detail. With that he lunged into the President, buckling Ford's knees - to reduce his target profile…”

“Within seconds other agents formed a protective human cocoon around their charge. ‘Everyone get out of the way, get out of here,’ roared one agent. The flying wedge carried the President by the scruff of his blue suit to safety. ‘Are you all right, sir?’ a reporter asked when the President reached the capitol steps. ‘Sure,’ he replied - in a shaken voice that barely rose above a whisper.

Meanwhile, Buendorf had forced Squeaky to drop the gun. By one account, she shouted, ‘Don't get excited. It didn't go off. It didn't go off. Can you believe it?’ Buendorf muscled her up against a tree, borrowed a pair of handcuffs from a Sacramento cop and manacled his charge. Some eyewitnesses reported later that Squeaky bleated a final verbal assault on Ford: ‘He is not a public servant.’

“For the time being, no one could tell whether she had pulled the trigger. When investigators examined the gun they found that it had four bullets in its seven-slug clip - but the firing chamber itself was empty. During the scuffle a few witnesses heard an ominous click, but no one heard a shot. One educated guess was that Squeaky had cocked the gun's hammer with her thumb (hence the click) but had forgotten the essential step of pulling back the slide that shoves a bullet into the firing chamber.”

Except for a few days in December 1987, when she managed to escape from a federal prison in West Virginia, Fromme has spent her days since 1975 behind bars, serving a life sentence.

Today is also the day in 1905 when the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the war between Russia and Japan, was signed. The ever-versatile Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, brokered the peace. For his efforts, he won the Noble Peace Prize, the first American to do so. Among presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter have also won it, and among vice presidents, Charles Dawes did.

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