Washington, November 1 – (AP) – Two fiery Puerto Rican revolutionaries made their way to President Truman’s door today, but were shot dead in a shootout with White House guards before they could lead to their plot to assassinate the sleeping president. One of the armed men was killed, the other seriously injured.
Tonight, a Secret Service man died from gunshot wounds sustained in the roaring shooting outside Blair House, the President’s temporary residence across from the White House. Two other guards were injured, one seriously.
It was the first plot – by two or more people – to kill a President of the United States since John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in a plot to destroy the entire government leadership.
Mr. Truman was taking a nap as the assassins stormed his home. The gunshots woke him up but he is unharmed.
Those killed are: Griselio Torresola, from New York, one of the gunmen.
Pvt. Leslie Coffelt, 40, of the Secret Service. He was shot in the chest, stomach and legs in his valiant – and successful – defense of the President.
TWO GUARDS, SHOOTER FIRE
The other two guards were seriously injured, as was the remaining gunman.
The shooting took place at the very doorstep of the Blair House.
A gunman stretched out at the bottom of the steps of the mansion. The other fell among the shrubs nearby.
So Mr. Truman escaped the fate of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, who all died from assassin bullets.
Mr Truman was taking a nap in his underwear, resting early to head to Arlington Cemetery to help dedicate a monument to the late Sir John Dill, the British Chief of Staff during the war.
The President once peeked out the window to see what it was about. He was quickly greeted by frantic guards.
Thirty minutes later, he attended the Arlington ceremonies as scheduled. He delivered a speech pleading for understanding between peoples.
The United States, he said, “has no ambition – only world peace.”
From the anti-American party
The dead man was identified by the secret service as Griselio Torresola, shot in the head from ear to ear. He has been described as a young man from New York. In his pocket were two letters from Pedro Albizu Campos, the violently anti-American party in Puerto Rico.
The injured man was Oscar Collazo, 37, from the Bronx, New York. He was shot in the chest and could live.
In New York, Ms Collazo said her husband was from the Nationalist Party – whose revolution in Puerto Rico was quelled earlier this week with the loss of more than 30 lives.
Puerto Rico is a possession of the United States, but elects its own officers and local governors. The National Party said it started the revolution in order to gain independence. Governor Luiz Munoz Marin described the rebels as members of a “conspiracy against democracy aided by the Communists”.
Voted for Truman
Ms. Coliazo said of herself and her husband:
“We voted for Roosevelt and Truman because they promised us independence and we didn’t get it. Roosevelt is dead so we can’t blame him. We are both nationalists.
She said her husband polishes portfolio frames, for a living and makes $ 71 a week.
The link between Torresola and Collazo was not immediately established. But in one of the letters, Campos, the revolutionary leader, told Torresola:
“If for some reason it was necessary for you to take over the leadership of the movement in the United States, you will do so without hesitation of any kind. “
And Collazo told Secret Service agents:
“We came here for the express purpose of shooting the president. “
Earlier Tip Problem
Just hours before the assassination attempt, an unidentified man threw two flaming gasoline bottles into a crowd at the Puerto Rican government labor office in New York City.
The injured police officers were:
Police Pvt. Don Birdzell.
Pvt. Joseph Downs, 44, an officer in civilian clothes, was shot in the chest and stomach. His condition is “critical, very serious”.
The Blair House is across Pennsylvania Avenue and across the street about a block from the White House. The Trumans live there while the White House is being repaired.
Here is the scene, reconstructed from eyewitness accounts.
At 11:15 am PST everything was calm on a warm, beautiful fall day. Then pandemonium.
Secret Service chief UE Baugham said Collazo walked by the gatehouse on one side of Blair’s house without drawing attention.
Surprises with gunshots
He walked along the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue until he was less than ten feet from the entrance.
Birdzell was there, but turned to the other side. He heard a click and turned around.
Collazo said nothing, but opened fire.
Birdzell rushed into the street, even though he was shot. He said he was trying to keep the fire away from the Biair house.
At this point Constable Floyd Boring, standing outside the gatehouse and Constable Joseph O. Davidson, who was inside, opened fire. Neither of them knows who fired the shot that dropped Collazo.
He fell at the foot of the steps. A report said he actually climbed a few steps before the bullets shot him down.
Torresola was operating west of the Blair House.
What happened here is confusing.
Both well dressed
He died against a clump of shrubs, about 30 feet from his companion.
Both men were well dressed. Each wore what appeared to be identical pinstripe suits. Strangely enough, everyone fell and lay down with their hat on.
About twenty shots were fired.
At least four of them entered the Blair House. A window, almost at street level, was smashed. A gunshot lodged in a doorway.
Why did these men risk their lives in an attempt to kill the president?
The answer has not been fully understood here tonight. And Collazo himself was not very cooperative.
He was asked what his purpose was in coming here to carry out the attack.
“Oh, just political,” he said.
But it’s unclear exactly why he thought the death of a US president would help his cause.
The Secret Service men studied the two letters to clarify the matter.
“My dear Griselio:
“If for some reason it becomes necessary for you to take over the leadership of the movement in the United States, you will do so without hesitation of any kind. We leave everything to do with this matter to your high sense of patriotism and sound judgment.
“Predo Albizo Campos.”
The second was in the form of a memorandum, written in Spanish. Translated he read:
“Gorsoline will raise the funds that I deem necessary to provide for the supreme needs of the cause. He will report directly to the general treasurer. The delegate will give you all the cooperation you need to make your mission a triumph.
“San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 21, 1950.”
And when Ms. Collazo learned what had happened, she said, “I’m not surprised at anything these days – with the revolution going on in Puerto Rico.
“For every million dollars Truman gave us, he got $ 2 million back.”
This story appeared in the November 2, 1950 edition of the Lewiston Tribune.