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Griselio Torresola

Griselio Torresola (1925 - November 1, 1950) born in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, was one of two Puerto Rican Nationalists who attempted to assassinate United States President Harry Truman. During the attack on the president, Torresola mortally wounded White House policeman Private Leslie Coffelt and wounded two other law enforcement officers. Torresola was killed by a shot to the head from the mortally-wounded Coffelt.

Contents

Early life and political background

Torresola came from a family which believed in the Puerto Rican independence cause. They had participated in many of the island's past revolts. Torresola moved to New York City in August 1948. He was employed by a New York stationery and perfume store. A divorce from his first wife affected him emotionally and eventually he lost his job. He remarried and lived with one of his two children on a welfare check of $125 a month.

Torresola was a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and soon joined forces with fellow Nationalist Oscar Collazo. They participated in the attempted assassination of president Truman on November 1, 1950, while the president was residing in the Blair-Lee House while the White House was being renovated. The Nationalist Party was led by the charismatic Pedro Albizu Campos, for whom Torresola was a bodyguard. The party had rejected political participation through balloting and advocated violent resistance to U.S. governance.

Nationalists were increasingly angered by what they viewed as great injustices, including the Ponce Massacre, the extrajudicial murders of some members, the jailing of Albizu for his advocacy of violent resistance, and the impending changes of Puerto Rico's status from a non-autonomous territory to a partially self-governing commonwealth. They viewed Puerto Rico as a colony demanding independence. On October 30, 1950, his brother and sister participated in the failed Jayuya Uprising.

The assassination attempt

In the attack on the Blair House, Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to enter the President's residence and assassinate him.

Torresola walked up Pennsylvania Avenue from the west side while his partner, Oscar Collazo, engaged Secret Service Agents and White House policemen with his Walther P 38 from the east. Torresola approached a guard booth at the west corner of the Blair-Lee house, and noted an officer, Leslie Coffelt, sitting inside. Torresola, in a double handed, isosceles shooting stance, quickly pivoted from left to right around the opening of the booth, and fired four shots from his 9 mm German Luger, semi-automatic pistol at close range at Coffelt. Three of the shots struck Coffelt in the chest and abdomen, and the fourth went through his policeman's tunic. Coffelt slumped down in his chair, mortally wounded.

Torresola then turned his attention to plainclothes White House policeman Joseph Downs. Downs, who had just paused to chat with Coffelt, proceeded down the walkway to the basement door at the west end of the Blair-Lee house when he heard shots being fired. Downs noticed Torresola, but was shot once in the hip before he could draw his weapon. Downs turned back towards the house, and was shot twice more by Torresola, once in the back and once in the neck. Downs staggered to the basement door, opened it, slid in, and then slammed the door behind him, depriving Torresola of entry into the Blair-Lee House.

Torresola then turned his attention to the sound of the shoot-out between his partner, Collazo, and several law enforcement officers. Torresola noted wounded policeman Donald Birdzell aiming at Collazo from the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Torresola aimed in and shot Birdzell in the left knee from a distance of approximately 40 feet.

Then Torresola's gun ran dry.

Torresola now stood to the immediate left of the Blair House steps while he reloaded. At the same time, President Truman, asleep in his second floor bedroom, awoke to the sound of gunfire outside. President Truman went to his bedroom window, opened it, and looked outside. From where he stood reloading, Torresola was thirty-one feet away from that window. It is unknown whether either man saw the other.

At the same time, the mortally wounded Coffelt staggered out of his guard booth, leaned against it, and aimed his revolver at Torresola, who was approximately 20 feet away. Coffelt squeezed the trigger and fired, hitting Torresola two inches above the ear on a slight upward angle and blowing out a portion of his brain. Torresola was killed instantly. Coffelt would later succumb to his wounds.

The gunfight involving Torresola lasted approximately 20 seconds, while the gunfight with Collazo lasted 38.5 seconds.

Oscar Collazo was sentenced to death, later commuted by Truman to a life sentence. He died in 1994.

Collazo is quoted as saying "It would not be justice to Griselio if we merely remembered him for his ability with weapons. We must remember the brave and expert guerilla of the mountains of Jayuya as the patriot who never had doubts when his country called him to completion of his duty."

Torresola left behind a young wife and two young children. He is considered a hero among those who favor independence for Puerto Rico.

Leslie Coffelt left behind a wife and family in Virginia. A plaque at the Blair-Lee House commemorates Coffelt's sacrifice, heroism, and fidelity to his duty and his country.

References

  • Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., American Gunfight: The Plot To Kill Harry Truman - And The Shoot-Out That Stopped It. Simon & Schuster (2005), ISBN 0-7432-6068-6. This is the source for the description of the gunfight.

See also

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