Floyd Boring; Secret Service Agent Who Helped Save Truman's Life

Floyd "Toad" Boring stands guard after the shootout that thwarted an attempt to kill President Harry S. Truman on Nov. 1, 1950. (By John G. Zimmerman)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On an Indian-summer afternoon in Washington, the first day of November 1950, a young Secret Service agent named Floyd "Toad" Boring had just reported for duty at the White House. Across Pennsylvania Avenue at Blair House, temporary residence of the president while the White House was being renovated, Harry S. Truman was taking a nap in an upstairs bedroom.

At 15th and Pennsylvania, two Puerto Rican nationalists exited a cab. They approached Blair House from opposite directions. Their intent: assassinate the president.

Mr. Boring, one of the last two surviving officers involved in the bloody shootout on Pennsylvania Avenue that saved Truman's life, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 1 at his home in Silver Spring. He was 92.

The bloodshed began when one of the Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo, walked up behind White House Police Officer Donald Birdzell, drew a pistol and fired, striking Birdzell in the knee. Hearing the shot, Mr. Boring took cover behind a wooden guardhouse and returned fire, as did White House Police Officer Joseph O. Davidson. Mr. Boring hit Collazo in the head but got more of his hat than his head. Collazo continued to fire and hit Birdzell again.

Minutes later, Collazo lay wounded near the front steps of Blair House and his confederate, Griselio Torresola, was dead, shot by a mortally wounded White House police officer named Leslie Coffelt.

Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge Jr., in their book "American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill Harry Truman -- And the Shoot-Out That Stopped It" (2005), quote the president a few minutes after the shooting stopped:

"What happened, Floyd? . . ."

"Well, Mr. President, it appears that some people aren't too friendly to you." That was the official response, Hunter and Bainbridge wrote, but "the brusque, truth-speaking Toad Boring" probably had an earthier reply.

Later in the day, Mr. Boring accompanied the president on a scheduled trip to Arlington National Cemetery.

"Being in his presence made me feel almost as if I were a spoiled child in the presence of a genuine adult, someone with real character and strength," Bainbridge said of Mr. Boring, who received the Meritorious Civilian Service Honor Award for his actions protecting the president.

Floyd M. Boring was born in Salamanca, N.Y., in 1915 and grew up in DuBois, Pa., where he got his nickname because of a scattering of warts on his hand. He became a Pennsylvania state trooper in 1937 and then a plant guard for the National Tube Co. He joined the Secret Service in 1943.

Mr. Boring became Truman's driver when the Army sergeant who had been Franklin D. Roosevelt's driver got drunk and disappeared. Mr. Boring and Truman became friends and occasionally played poker together.

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