Fifty years ago, on May 15, 1972, I was a student at the University of Alabama and in my apartment in Tuscaloosa when a “Special Report” on television announced that my father, the governor. George C Wallacehe had been shot and seriously injured in an assassination attempt on his life.
Dad, a favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time, had been campaigning in Maryland on the eve of that state’s primary. The Michigan primary was also scheduled for the following day, and polls predicted my father would win both states by wide margins.
It was at a rally in a parking lot in Laurel, Maryland, where arthur bremera 21-year-old troubled busboy from Milwaukee, was fatally shot five times, wounding my father in the chest and abdomen as he shook hands in the crowd.
Dad told me later that he immediately realized his injuries were serious, and when he hit the ground, he turned his head on purpose, closed his eyes, and pretended to be dead in the hope that a possible second gunman would decide not to shoot.
Despite the chaos around him, he had felt a certain peace and steadiness come over him when he had mistakenly assumed his injuries would be fatal. A Secret Service agent had knelt over him in a protective position, but his drawn gun was dangerously close to Dad’s head. “I wish you wouldn’t point that at me, I’ve been shot enough for one day,” he told the agent.
Bremer’s volley of gunfire also resulted in the Secret Service agent Nick Zavohe’s getting shot in the neck, alabama state trooper CE Dotharda member of the governor’s security detail, was grazed in the stomach, and Dora Thompsona campaign volunteer from Hyattsville, Maryland, suffering a knee injury after a bullet ricocheted off the asphalt.
A journal Bremer kept for months declared his intention to “do something bold and dramatic” and indicated that he originally intended to assassinate the president. richard nixon. Stalking the president on his various trips, Bremer got close enough to participate in an economic summit in Ottawa, Canada, but the heavy Secret Service presence surrounding the CEO led him to change his plans and target my father, the most likely future president. – instead.
Minutes after receiving the news, state police arrived at the door of my apartment, rushed me to the airport and put me on board a private plane along with Charlie Snidernational chairman of Wallace’s presidential campaign, press secretary Camp Billy Joe, and a handful of others. We soon arrived at Holy Cross Hospital, where my father had been taken by ambulance and was undergoing five hours of emergency surgery.
Treating doctors told us that his already serious injuries were compounded by the fact that, just before the rally, Dad and his touring campaign team stopped at a Howard Johnson restaurant, where he ate his usual lunch of hamburger meat. and French fries drizzled with tomato sauce. . The bullets had caused undigested food to explode inside his abdomen, and the persistent peritonitis, blood infection, and abscesses that followed would nearly claim his life.
When I entered the recovery room, my father was still heavily sedated and many of the stitches on his chest and stomach were visible. He held out his hand with a look he had never seen: that of a man who had been on the verge of death and was back among the living, reunited with his family.
I have never forgotten that look.
It soon became clear that the injuries had paralyzed my father from the waist down, and while we were hopeful that he would eventually regain the use of his legs, those particular prayers went unanswered. He remained hospitalized at Holy Cross for several weeks as he battled infections and kept the continuing specter of death at bay.
Once his strength was restored, he was visited by notable leaders including President Nixon, Sen. George McGovernCongressman Shirley ChisholmY ethel kennedywhose husband, Robert Kennedyhe had been assassinated while campaigning for the presidency in 1968. Thousands of cards, letters, telegrams, and flowers poured into the hospital.
Upon his release, Dad flew to Miami on a military medical plane, provided by President Nixon, to appear at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, where McGovern, a committed liberal, would claim the nomination. My father’s forced absence from the election campaign had allowed his competitor to secure the required delegates.
During his remarks at the convention, Dad warned Democrats that embracing the far left and its ultraliberal agenda would cost the party the support of the working-class and middle-class families that served as its base and doom it. lose the states of the Deep South in future elections.
Like a clairvoyant with a crystal ball, all the predictions you made those years ago have come true today.
As my father spoke, a handful of liberal delegates tried to shout him down, and some marched through the convention hall wearing paper masks depicting Arthur Bremer, which Wallace supporters ripped from their faces. The vast majority, however, gave him a warm welcome and appreciated the story of the moment. With his mission complete, it was time to return to his beloved Alabama.
My father would serve two more terms as governor and run for president for the fourth time in 1976, though he lost the nomination to Jimmy Carter, a former Georgia governor who had once been a Wallace supporter. Retirement from public service in 1987 would give him an opportunity to reflect on his later years, and his relationship with God grew significantly.
One of the most enduring and revealing testimonies of my father’s growing faith came in an incredible letter of forgiveness he wrote without fanfare or public announcement to his assailant, Arthur Bremer, in 1995. A copy of the hidden missive was discovered in dad’s files. years after it was written.
“I love you and have forgiven you, and if you ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart, then you and I will be in heaven together,” part of his letter to Bremer read.
During a quiet time together, I once asked my father what prompted him to write the note, and his response is one I will always remember: “Son, if I cannot forgive you, my Lord will not forgive me of my sins. .”
A more genuine sense of the fragile nature of humanity revealed itself to my father as he lay on the asphalt of the Laurel Mall parking lot, blood oozing from his body. That was his first step on his way to Damascus, and as he continued his life’s journey, he would notice profound changes in his physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual life. These provided him with a clear picture of his past and what his future should be.
In that moment, a bond was forged with many he had been accused of hating because of his past support for racial segregation, which he had since renounced. The civil rights workers who had been wounded and killed and had shed their blood now had a brother in George Wallace.
Their common sacrifice and their common bond was their own life blood. Her shared suffering resulted in the birth of an alliance of forgiveness, understanding and brotherhood.
He reached out to black leaders in Alabama and the rest of the nation to apologize for his past sins and seek their forgiveness. Tears were shed and deep emotions were expressed when he met with jesse jackson, john lewis, Joseph Lowryand others in their modest Montgomery home.
In a very real sense, the event that took place half a century ago resulted in two distinctly different George Wallaces: the one who lived before the shooting and the other after.
Perhaps the change was best illustrated one night when we watched television together as I sat beside her bed. Knowing that he had twice won a Golden Gloves championship as an amateur, captained the University of Alabama boxing team and loved the sport all his life, I ignited a prize fight between two ranked contenders.
“Son, I don’t like to see two people get hurt,” he said as he asked me to change the channel.
In 1998, my father passed away from one of the many infections that had plagued him since he was shot on that hot, humid day in Laurel. At the time of his death, he was secure and confident in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Other victims of the shooting have also left us.
Agent Nick Zarvos, whose vocal cords were severely damaged by the bullet that struck him, spoke in a low voice until his death in 2014 at age 79.
Private EC Dothard, who would be appointed director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety by my father seven months after the shooting, committed suicide in 1989 at the age of 58. At the time he was battling the last stages of terminal cancer.
I have not been able to determine the whereabouts of campaign volunteer Dora Thompson, who testified against Bremer at his trial and received $920 from the Maryland Criminal Injury Compensation Board in 1974 for her injury.
And finally, Arthur Bremer was released from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Maryland in 2007 after serving 35 years of his 53-year sentence for attempted murder. He is believed to currently reside in rural Maryland, and the conditions of his release prohibit him from contacting elected officials or candidates.
Although prison officials confirmed that he turned himself in, Bremer never responded to my father’s letter of forgiveness.
George Wallace Jr. he is the son of the governors of Alabama. Jorge and lurlene wallace. He previously served two terms as Alabama State Treasurer and two terms as a member of the Alabama Public Utilities Commission.
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