The other day, my wife and I were honored to attend a graduation ceremony. Our son has just graduated as an officer in the uniformed division of the US Secret Service! We were taken on a tour where we saw some of the intense training hundreds of men and women go through every year to work in the Secret Service. Man was it impressive!
What impressed me even more than the training facilities was the story of the courageous Leslie Coffelt. Officer Coffelt is the only member of the US Secret Service to have been killed in the line of duty. He and other officers worked together to save the life of President Harry Truman on November 1st, 1950.
On that day, two terrorists from Puerto Rico, Grizello Torresola and Oscar Collazo approached Blair House where President Truman was living during renovations at the White House. The two terrorists wanted Puerto Rico to be independent from the United States. A noble goal, but certainly an evil way of going about achieving such a goal.
Torresola approached from the west and Collazo approached from the east. With their pistols they intended to shoot their way into Blair House and kill the President. Torresola came up to officer Coffelt in his guard booth and shot him three times…twice in the chest and once in the abdomen. The other terrorist, Collazo, shot and wounded another officer in the knee. A secret service officer shot Collazo in the chest, wounding him but not killing him.
Torresola moved past the dying Coffelt and shot two more Secret Service officers before running out of ammo. As he was standing there trying to re-load…..Leslie Coffelt staggered out of his booth. At a distance of 31 feet…as he was dying…he fired once at Torresola, hitting him behind the ear and killing him instantly. Officer Coffelt then staggered back into his booth, slumped and passed out. He died four hours later in the hospital. He was only forty. Officer Coffelt is buried with our heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
Collazo was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death. President Truman commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. In 1979, President Carter pardoned the terrorist, and Collazo went back home to Puerto Rico. He died in 1994.
Thank God for Leslie Coffelt, and all the officers in the US Secret Service who put their lives on the line every single day.