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Floyd Boring, 92; agent helped save Truman's life

Floyd Boring standing guard outside Blair House in Washington, D.C., after the shootout that thwarted an attempt to kill President Harry S. Truman. Floyd Boring standing guard outside Blair House in Washington, D.C., after the shootout that thwarted an attempt to kill President Harry S. Truman. (John G. Zimmerman/file 1950)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joe Holley
Washington Post / February 15, 2008

WASHINGTON - On a warm 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 Street 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, Md. 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, 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 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.

Although Mr. Boring's involvement in foiling the attempt on the president's life was perhaps the most memorable experience of a long career, others also stood out. When he was a young Pennsylvania state trooper, a fugitive slashed him with a butcher knife as the two grappled in the dirt alongside a highway. Mr. Boring managed to break free and shoot the man.

As a Secret Service agent in 1945, he was in Warm Springs, Ga., with President Roosevelt when he died. Mr. Boring escorted the body to Hyde Park, N.Y., by train.

He and another agent who took turns traveling with President Kennedy carried a travel kit that held cash, four or five cigars, and Kennedy's reading glasses. Mr. Boring happened to be in Washington when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. He put the glasses in his desk and forgot he had them until a presidential memorabilia collector inquired 20 years later.

During the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations, Mr. Boring conducted numerous security surveys in the United States and around the world. In 1960, in Japan, he had to evacuate the White House press secretary and the US ambassador when students laid siege to their automobile during a protest of Eisenhower's scheduled visit.

In 1965, he joined the Inspection Division and was involved in finding land suitable for a Secret Service training facility, which would become the James J. Rowley Training Center at Beltsville, Md.

He retired from the Secret Service in 1967 but continued working in the security business. Clients included H. Ross Perot and Berry Gordy of Motown Records.

He enjoyed woodworking and making clocks.

His wife, Ruth Lehner Boring, died in 2005. He leaves two daughters, Kate Elliott of Fairfax, Va., and Judy Orzell of Silver Spring, Md.. and a granddaughter.

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