President Ronald Reagan’s grace, courage, and humor in the face of death from a would-be assassin’s bullet 30 years ago Wednesday transformed him into a mythic figure the America public embraced, says Del Quentin Wilber, the author a new book on the assassination attempt.
What’s not to love about a guy whose first words to his wife, Nancy, as he lay bleeding in the emergency room were: “Honey, I forgot to duck,” Wilber tells Newsmax.TV.
“His actions that day, his heroism, his jokes in the face of death, really revealed his inner character to the American people,” says Wilber, author of “Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan.”
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“Remember, Ronald Reagan had a very scripted presidency,” he says. “I don’t mean that in a negative sense, but his presidency was laid out perfectly, what to do when to do it. He liked it that way — he was a former actor and he was running the show.”
But John Hinckley Jr. took over the show and rewrote the historical script on March 30, 1981, when he tried to kill Rawhide — that’s the code name the Secret Service used for Reagan — in a deranged attempt to draw the attention of actress Jodie Foster.
“The American people got to see the true Reagan without any filter, and they liked what they saw,” says Wilber, an award-winning reporter for The Washington Post.
Wilber recalls that he got the idea for the book when he attended a hearing for Hinckley, and an FBI agent handed him the gun Hinckley used to shoot Reagan.
“As I got more and more into it, the more impressed I became with Ronald Reagan . . . Here’s this guy — they have now inserted a chest tube into his side by the way — and blood is pouring out and he sees his wife . . . and the first thing he says to her, ‘Honey, I forgot to duck.’ No one can believe he has this poise,” Wilber says.
In researching the book, Wilber interviewed 125 people and had access to newly released records. The sequence of events is riveting, detailing how Hinckley approached Reagan’s entourage as the president left the Washington Hilton at 2:27 p.m. on March 30, 1981.
Hinckley got within 15 feet of Reagan and fired six shots from a .22-caliber revolver in 1.7 seconds, Wilber says.
“The first shot hits [White House press secretary] James Brady. The second hits Tom Delahanty, a D.C. police officer. They fall to the ground. The way to Reagan is clear.
“Jerry Parr, a 50-year-old Secret Service agent, was already reacting in four-tenths of a second to get Reagan behind that armed door and into the door of that limousine. The third shot Hinckley shoots goes high . . . The fourth shot, Tim McCarthy, the Secret Service agent by the door, swivels and took it right in his chest. He falls to the ground as they flash behind him. The fifth shot hit the bulletproof window as they flash behind that.
“And the sixth shot cracked across the driveway, that bullet got smashed into a size of a dime and slipped through an inch and half gap between the door and the door frame and struck Reagan in the left chest.
“When you really analyze that moment and you really think about it, Jerry Parr saved Reagan’s life in these split-second decisions. Hinckley had an effective shooting range of 20 to 30 feet at stationary targets. He doesn’t get that chance because Parr reacted so quickly. Secondly, if Jerry Parr is a split second slower — just a split second — if you follow the trajectory of the bullet, it hits Ronald Reagan in the head.”
Parr’s decision to divert the president’s car from the White House to the hospital were also critical.
“In a minute and a half, Jerry Parr didn’t save the president’s life once — he saved it twice,” Wilber says.
The book’s recounting of the day also reveals the depth of the love between Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
“This was a very traumatic day for her,” Wilber tells Newsmax. “It still shakes her up to talk about it. . . . Because you know Ronald Reagan — the closest person in his life was ever was Nancy Reagan, and vice versa — and you can only imagine the trauma that she went through on this day.”
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