McCarthy became an American hero on March 31, 1981, while performing his duties as a Secret Service agent. When shots were fired at President Reagan, McCarthy, without hesitating, leapt in front of the president and took a bullet in the abdomen. In the aftermath of the shooting, McCarthy was rushed to the hospital where he underwent surgery to remove the Devastator bullet lodged in his stomach. During his recovery from abdominal surgery, he received 50,000 get-well cards; including one from John Hinckley's parents. He later received a special letter from President Reagan expressing his heart-felt thanks. Reagan wrote, "There will always be the special gratitude I feel for your extraordinary heroism on that one cold day in March. It is a gratitude words could never convey."
The Coin Toss
Ironically, McCarthy was not supposed to be on duty that fateful day in March. At the last minute, the Secret Service received a request for an officer to provide protection to Reagan for an AFL-CIO luncheon on March 31. McCarthy and a colleague flipped a coin to see who would have to fill in on their day off; McCarthy lost. McCarthy, however, has no regrets about the incident; he was only glad to be able to make the leap before the president when the time arrived.
McCarthy After the Shooting
McCarthy returned to the Secret Service after recovering from his bullet wound. He served up until October 1993 when he retired from the agency. In recent years, he has served as the corporate vice president of a security systems company. Currently, he speaks to schools and conventions about his experiences as a Secret Service officer during the Reagan administration. In 1997, he ran for Secretary of State in Illinois.