A Secret Service Agent's Account of the Reagan Assassination Attempt, Signed by Reagan

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A Secret Service Agent's Account of the Reagan Assassination Attempt, Signed by Reagan
Autograph Sentiment Signed
4 pages | SMC 257

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      It doesn’t look good: 10% of American Presidents have been assassinated and 20%, the objects of assassination attempts. These grim statistics, Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr suggests, never leave the collective mind of the men and women charged with protecting the President – which makes this riveting account of the Reagan assassination attempt surprisingly poignant. When, for instance, Agent Parr, having just thrown himself in front of a hail of bullets and made a split-second decision to take the seemingly unscathed President to the hospital, only to discover that Reagan had been badly wounded, this first thought was “My God, we’ve lost another one.” How the Secret Service protects a President; what they did, and why, on the day John Hinkley fired six bullets at Ronald Reagan; everything that happened to White House Detail Chief Parr and Ronald Reagan, in the three seconds between the first pop of gunfire to the door of the presidential limo slamming shut, is broken down into slow-motion. This second by second account encompasses, however, the entire dread event, from the moment Reagan leaves for his luncheon at the Washington Hilton, to his remarks prior to entering surgery. Parr’s exquisite training, and instincts, saved Ronald Reagan’s life – as Ronald attests, at the top of page one. “Jerry Parr,” he wrote, “ is my hero!”
      Signed and inscribed Typed Manuscript entitled “Secret Service agent Jerry Parr’s account of the March 30, 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.” 4 pages, quarto, no place or date.
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      Page 1 transcript
      [In Reagan's hand]

      Jerry Parr is my hero!
      Ronald Reagan

      [Jerry Parr's typewritten account]

      Secret Service agent Jerry Parr's
      account of the March 30, 1981 assassination
      attempt on President Ronald Reagan

      Some agents aspire to be agents in charge of the White House detail. You have to be really someone who understands protection in a very deep way. You have to know how to deal with people, but mostly you have to have internalized the organizational culture of the Secret Service. The value systems, the invisible web of obligations that go with being on protective assignment -- the biggest obligation being that one may have to lay down one's life for one's president.

      In my case, I was the agent in charge of Presidents Carter and Reagan. While I went in with a Democrat and out with a Republican, it didn't make much difference to me -- they were both Presidents of the United States.

      My typical day involved supervising 100 or more agents, some of whom surround the President. Picture three concentric rings -- inner, middle and outer. The inner ring is the Secret Service agents; the middle ring, the uniformed division of the Secret Service; and the outer ring the metropolitan police or the military. No matter where he is in the world, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, by the time the American people select a president until leaving the office, that ring is always with him.

      On March 30, 1981, for some reason, I wanted to be with the President. I had not ridden with him and I wanted to talk with him and see if he had any problems. I told agent Johnny Guy, one of my supervisors, "I'll work the President today." President Reagan had known me from about December, 1980. We had the usual interviews because you have to get the chemistry right. I got along fine with him.

      I went to the Washington Hilton with him. We had Secretary of Labor Donovan with us, Mike Deaver, Hugh Unruh, the agent who was driving, and myself. The President usually sat in the right rear seat. Donovan and Deaver were in the back where there were jump seats. As we got out, I was in front of the President and the door was right there. We went in quickly. It was a cloudy, rainy day, a bit cool and I had my London Fog on. President Reagan just had a suit on. We went in, then we turned the cars around. The rule is: the driver stay with the car, I go with the President.

      The advance team had set it all up ahead of time, which means that the agents talked with the hotel, police, the countersniper team, and the bomb squad. All these people are ready there and everybody in the room has been checked out.

      President Reagan gave his speech. It was a luncheon of the Building Trade Union. One agent stands near the President. I put somebody else back there and I was off-stage where I could just generally check things out. I had to be hyper-vigilant. You know that there are people out there that clearly want to do the President in. How does one stay vigilant for a long

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      Page 2 transcript

      time? For me, it was the memory of Kennedy's death. Even though I wasn't there you carry a corporate sense of guilt, and an individual sense of guilt. A whole generation of agents carried a lot of bad memories because of that tragedy. You're always alert because you always know it can happen.

      I taught my agents to pick certain sectors, to keep their eyes open, trust nobody. You look for eyes that glitter with hatred -- that set of eyes that's hostile, that's angry. Most people are curious, or expectant or happy. But every once in a while you catch a pair of eyes. It's hard to arrest just somebody just because they have hatred in their eyes.

      What you also look for is a quick movement; if anyone charges forward. And if this happens, we take the President down. It's called, "cover and evacuate." It's the most un-macho thing that you can do, but you've got to do it. Because it's been our experience that there's no time to move beyond your arm's reach. You have to retreat toward the President and shield him with your body. That's the inner perimeter rule. It's hard to train this into agents because you want to go after the person -- you're aggressive, you're macho. You have to train that response out of them. You have to teach them to retreat and cover.

      On that day I saw nothing out of the ordinary. When the speech was over, the President went back up to the holding room and then to the car. The car wasn't in front of the door because the sidewalk extended out. So we couldn't park in front of it and also get a clean departure out of the parking lot. The car was about 25 feet from the door.

      We have several formations we use to protect the President. The shift leader, Ray Shaddick, calls the formations -- diamond, box, square or circle. Diamond was called. This was the inner perimeter. Now when you look back at the situation, this is probably over a 100 times we've taken a President to that location.

      The most insidious enemy in security is routine -- the dominant way of doing things. Tim McCarthy was in front of President Reagan -- the point man. I was right behind the President and we had an agent to the right and an agent to the left. There were staff members Deaver and Jim Brady and a couple of policemen. We had a mass of flesh around the President.

      The first three shots were stopped by human flesh -- James Brady, Washington Police Officer Tom Delahanty and Tim McCarthy. Nobody saw John Hinkley pull his gun. I'm not surprised. This is a profound lesson of law enforcement. You see but you don't see.

      At 2:27 p.m. what I heard and what I still hear in my head was two quick bangs and then a gap and then four more. The instant I heard that I grabbed the President's left shoulder with my left hand, started bending him over, trying to get him down behind Tim McCarthy because McCarthy was extending the armored door to help shield us. I knew the shots were off at my left, echoing along the wall and I tried to move my body toward that. I'd been trained to do that for 18 years and here's the moment at truth.

      Hinkley is about 15 to 18 feet away. I didn't see him. I didn't even look, and that's training. Hinkley fired all six shots in 1.48 seconds. He had a .22-caliber short barrel revolver -- a Saturday Night Special - and he had "devastater" [sic] bullets which were designed to explode. But what he didn't know was that "devastater" [sic] bullets require muzzle velocity, which means that the speed the bullet leaves the muzzle with a short barrel you don't hit it. So, none of those bullets exploded. If the bullets had exploded in his victims, they would have killed sane [sic] of them for sure.

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      Page 3 transcript

      I was pushing the President into the car behind McCarthy. We knew the armored car was a safe place, so Shaddick was pushing me from behind with his left hand and the President with his right. Both of us gave the President a tremendous heave into the back seat of the car. We went straight in. His chest hit the transmission riser. There was plenty of room because the jump seats were folded up. Shaddick threw my feet in, then the President's feet and slammed the door. Three seconds passed from the first shot until that door was shut.

      Now we've got the President in the car and I'm on top of him. I yelled to Unruh, "Move out!" and he did. I pushed the President into a sitting position and knelt in front of him. There was a bullet hole in the window which didn't penetrate because it's armored. As we pulled away, I looked out the window and saw three bodies. My responsibility then was to see if the President had been hit.

      The President was pale and concerned. I ran my hands up under his arms, up under the back of his coat and getting as high as I could. Pulling his head down, I ran my hands through the back of his hair and looked for blood. No blood. It was about 10 seconds into the ride.

      We headed toward the White House. Since we were leaving, the entire route back was secure. I called Shaddick and said, "Rawhide," which was President Reagan's code name, "It's okay" and we headed back to the White House grounds.

      The President had a napkin in his pocket from the speech site and he said, "I think I've cut the inside of my mouth." But the blood was frothy and bright red and I knew this meant a lung injury. I thought I had broken one of his ribs when I went in on top of him. So I just made a quick decision. Here we have a 71-year-old President, pale, losing air for some reason and I said, "We're going to G. W. Hospital."

      What I didn't know was that my wife witnessed the whole thing from across the street. When she saw the President go down and me go down with him, she screamed, "My husband! My husband!" Well, the agent who had with the machine gun, Bob Walthou -- he's designed to cover the departure and that's why he had an automatic weapon -- he yelled at her, "He's in the car with the man!" She thought I was okay but she knew I could have been wounded.

      Three minutes from the first shot to the hospital emergency room, he got up, walked in about 20 feet and collapsed. We and about eight agents in the car behind and nurses and medics helped carry him to Trauma Bay 5. I told Shaddick to set up a perimeter. When you tell an agent to do this, it means you start where the President's body is and systematically cut off access. Dale MacIntosh told the nurse, "Nobody comes in here unless you can identify them." So while it looked like chaos from their perspective, from a security perspective it was working - we had our inner ring, middle ring and outer ring established.

      But when we laid him out on that table, and they put a blood pressure cup on him, there was no blood pressure. So he was going fast. I'll never forget that nurse saying, "No blood pressure, faint pulse," because I thought, "My God, we've lost another one."

      The fifth bullet hit the side of the car, ricocheted in between the car frame and the door, which is a space of about a half-inch wide. It hit the President as he was going in. Now that bullet could have gone anywhere -- up, down, hit me. But it hit the President. The bullet hit a rib, and the cut diagonally across his lung. It was about the size of a dime and stopped two and a half inches from the President's heart.

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      He was losing an enormous amount of blood, all inside the lung. There was a perfect slit under his arm. There was no blood. That's why I thought I'd broken a rib. But in reality he was losing all the blood inside and the lung was collapsing.

      Doctor Ruge, President Reagan's personal physician, later told me that he probably would have gone in three or four minutes if we hadn't got him to the hospital. So the decision was right to take him to the hospital when everything in your training says take him to the White House where it's safe, don't take him to a hospital where you don't know what's going on. But I was in the car with him and I had to make that decision.

      Once they got glucose in one arm and blood in the other, and they stuck a chest tube in the hole and drained the blood, he regained consciousness and joked that he hoped everyone there were all Republicans.

      Ronald Reagan, in 1939 when he was a young actor, made a movie called, "The Code of the Secret Service." When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went to see it several times. And that's when I internalized my drive or need or whatever it was to became an agent. And because of that 42 years later, I ended up in a car with him wounded and dying. And you only have a few seconds -- you either do it or you don't do it. This was a combination of medicine, armor, technology, and flesh. This time, thank God, we won.

      -Jerry Parr