On March 30, 1981, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy had the rare experience of feeling relieved that he had been shot. The bullet, fired by John Hinckley Jr., was intended for President Ronald Reagan, but McCarthy stepped into the line of fire, taking it in the chest. Thirty-two years later, he spoke about the experience and its lasting effects.
"You never dream that you are going to be in this situation. You train intensely, there's a reason for doing it, and frankly I never thought it would happen to me," McCarthy said in an interview with CNN over the weekend. "I think what I'm most grateful for -- you know we're all human out there doing this type of work which requires split-second decisions -- and I'm just thankful that on that particular day I was able to do what I was trained to do."
McCarthy said he was back on presidential protection detail less than three months after being shot, but that he still sometimes replayed the episode in his mind.
"A lot of people played an awful lot of key roles that day, that led to the fact that the president lived," McCarthy said, commending his colleagues for apprehending Hinckley and rushing Reagan off to treatment upon finding that he'd been shot as well.
A total of four people were shot by Hinckley that day -- including White House Press Secretary James Brady and Washington, D.C., police officer Thomas Delahanty who both were seriously injured -- and McCarthy said the incident prompted changes in protocol.
"We would have to admit there was a little bit of failure too, that John Hinckley got six shots off and the president was injured at all. Our goal would be that the president is never injured, and so many security measures were changed after that that would help mitigate that type of attack by the lone gunman, and it's no coincidence that since that time there hasn't been an attack on the president by the lone gunman."
In 2011, McCarthy explained to the Chicago Tribune that he'd only been on Reagan's detail because he'd loss a coin toss against a colleague.
Despite the unlucky series of events, McCarthy said at the time that he was glad to have been on duty when the bullets started to fly.
"I'm glad I got to do it," he said. "I'm glad I got to do what I was trained to do. I wouldn't want it another way."