Posts Tagged ‘President Harry Truman’

Leslie William “Les” Coffelt Memorial Ride

Leslie William “Les” Coffelt Memorial Ride

This past weekend marked the 64th anniversary of first Secret Service Officer killed in the line of duty.  On November 1, 1950, Leslie William “Les” Coffelt, was killed while protecting President Harry Truman from an assassination attempt.  So, on this bike ride I rode to two of the locations connected to Officer Coffelt. The first was The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, located at E and 5th Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP). I also rode by Blair House, which is the President’s guest house located near The White House at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), and where a commemorative plaque honors Coffelt’s sacrifice.

Back in the autumn of 1950, President Truman and his family were living in the nearby Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue while the White House was being renovated.  On the afternoon of November 1, Truman and his wife were upstairs when they heard a commotion and gunshots coming from the front steps of the house.  A pair of would-be assassins named Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo, nationalists who supported independence for Puerto Rico from the United States, werer attacking officers at the Blair House in an attempt to assassinate President Truman. They never made it past the entry steps, however, due to the quick reaction of police officers and guards.

Torresola approached from the west side while Collazo engaged Secret Service Officers and White House policemen from the east. Torresola approached the guard booth at the west corner of the Blair House and fired at Coffelt from close range. His three shots struck Coffelt in the chest and abdomen, mortally wounding him. A fourth shot passed through the policeman’s tunic.

Torresola shot two other policemen before running out of ammunition, then moved to the left of the Blair House steps to reload. Coffelt went out of his booth and fired at Torresola from 31 feet away, hitting him behind the ear and killing him instantly. Coffelt limped back to the booth and blacked out. He died of his wounds four hours later in a hospital.

Collazo later revealed to police just how poorly planned the assassination attempt actually was. The assailants were unsure if Truman would even be in the house when they launched their attack at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Torresola and Collazo were political activists and members of the extremist Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, a group fighting for full independence from the U.S. The “Independistas,” as they were commonly called, targeted President Truman despite his support of greater Puerto Rican autonomy.

President Truman escaped unscathed, and apparently unfazed by the attempt on his life, he kept his scheduled appointments for the remainder of the day. “A President has to expect these things,” he remarked dryly.

Officer Coffelt is still the only Secret Service member to be killed while defending the President. Collazo was sentenced to death, but in an act of forgiveness on July 24, 1952, Truman commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Disgracefully, President Jimmy Carter later commuted Officer Cofflet’s killer’s sentence to time served, and granted the man release. Collazo returned to Puerto Rico, where he died 15 years later.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial honors the more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty throughout this country’s history. The memorial features a reflecting pool which is surrounded by walkways on a 3-acre park. Along the walkways are walls that are inscribed with names of all U.S. law enforcement officers — federal, state, and local — who have died in the line of duty.  This includes Officer Coffelt.

Officer Coffelt’s name is inscribed on Panel 23-W of the Memorial. Ironically, the next two names engraved on the same panel immediately after Officer Coffelt’s are A.M. Blair (who was a detective with the Greenville, S.C., police department, killed in 1919 while raiding a dice game) and John House (a patrol officer in St. Joseph, Mo., who was accidentally shot by a fellow officer during a domestic disturbance call in 1922). So as it turned out, the two names following Officer Coffelt’s are Blair and House – Blair House – the location where Officer Cofflet was killed.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

On this ride Julius and I went to one of D.C.’s “major” memorials, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Located in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall (MAP), the memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces surprised the South Korean army, and the small U.S. force stationed in the country, and quickly headed toward the capital city of Seoul. The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the United Nations Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. The Soviet Union was not present to veto the action as it was boycotting the Security Council at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.” The U.S. intervention turned the tide, and U.S. and South Korean forces marched into North Korea. This action, however, prompted the massive intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950. The war in Korea subsequently bogged down into a bloody stalemate. On July 27, 1953, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

The Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War. Korea was the first “limited war,” one in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe. It proved to be a frustrating experience for the American people, who were used to the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II. The public found the concept of limited war difficult to understand or support and the Korean War never really gained popular support.

The war was one of the most hard-fought in American history. During its relatively short duration, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. An additional 103,284 Americans were wounded during the conflict.  An estimated 2.5 million civilians were also killed or wounded.

The main portion of the memorial honoring these men and women is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, which represent an ethnic cross section of America. Each statue is larger than life-size, measuring between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing nearly half a ton. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.

The main reflection wall along the south side of the triangle is 164 feet long, 8 inches thick; and made from more than 100 tons of highly polished “Academy Black” granite. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war are sandblasted onto the wall. When the statues are reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming another side of the triangle. Alongside the path, forming the second side of the triangle is the United Nations Wall, a low wall listing the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean War effort.  The third side of the triangle, facing towards The Lincoln Memorial, is open.

The memorial’s circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool 30 feet in diameter lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees with benches. The trees are shaped to create a barrel effect, which allows the sun to reflect on the pool. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque is inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Additionally, next to the information about the American soldiers is information about the United Nations troops.

The meaning of the memorial is perhaps most captured by a message embedded in one of its granite walls, which bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.”

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