GW Hospital surgeon, others discuss Reagan assassination attempt


The surgeon and Secret Service agent who saved former President Ronald Reagan after he was shot discussed the assassination attempt at the Newseum Wednesday. Jordan Emont | Contributing Photo Editor


This post was written by Hatchet reporter Shivan Sarna.

Former President Ronald Reagan would not have survived his assassination attempt had the Secret Service returned him to the White House rather than GW Hospital after he was shot, the founder of the hospital’s trauma center said Wednesday evening.

At a Newseum event marking the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on the nation’s 40th president, Jerry Parr, the Secret Service agent credited with saving the president’s life, and Joseph Giordano, the founder of the trauma center at GW Hospital Reagan was rushed to, joined author Del Quentin Wilber to discuss his new book, “Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan.”

Judy Woodruff, who covered the president for NBC News at the time of the assassination, moderated the talk.

When Reagan exited his car after delivering a speech to a labor group at the Washington Hilton Hotel March 30, 1981, gunman John Hinckley fired six shots in a 1.7 second time-frame, Wilber said, and the last bullet hit the back panel of the limousine, lodging into Reagan’s left underarm.

Parr said he immediately grabbed the president’s left shoulder and head and pushed him down. The idea was to “cover and evacuate,” he said. Wilber said if the bullet moved “a split second slower and it would have hit Reagan in the head.”

Once in the vehicle, Parr examined Reagan and found “blood spilling down on the coat,” he said, and swiftly made the decision go directly to the hospital instead of returning to the White House.

“It was the critical decision of the day,” Giordano said. “I don’t think he would have survived it,” otherwise.

Wilber said the media spread misinformation about the shooting. In an archival clip shown, respected ABC Anchor Frank Reynolds first reported Reagan had not been hit by a bullet, and also erroneously said Press Secretary James Brady was killed.

Wilber said even White House aides were out of the loop.

Despite being in the hospital, Reagan found time for humor, Wilber said, and once pulled his oxygen mask from his face and told everyone in the room, “I hope you are all Republicans,” and “Honey, I forgot to duck,” when his wife Nancy Reagan first arrived in the operating room.

“Here he is cracking jokes in the face of death,” Wilber said, adding that Reagan’s publicized one-liners were important because it “built a bond with the American public that made him a mythic figure.”

“In the most unscripted moment of his highly choreographed years in office, he gave the American people an indelible image of his character,” Wilber wrote in his book.

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