Tales from the Trail

Inside Secret Service ears when Reagan was shot

March 11, 2011

USA-POLITICS/OBAMAThirty years after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. Secret Service offers an unusual peek into history with the release of about 10 minutes of radio traffic between agents protecting the president and their command  center.

The never-before-heard recording shows that agents initially believed Reagan, referred to by his code-name “Rawhide”, was fine after being shot as he left the Washington Hilton Hotel following a speech on March 30, 1981.

“Rawhide is okay. Follow-up, Rawhide is okay,” said Special Agent in Charge Jerry Parr, after hustling Reagan into his limousine which quickly sped away from the hotel.

Parr told the command center he wanted to head back to the White House, referring to it by its code name “Crown”.

But less than a minute later, the agent driving the limo said they had changed course and were headed instead to George Washington Hospital.

“We want to go to the emergency room of George Washington,” said special agent Thomas Drew Unrue.  Then he said “Go to George Washington fast.”

Parr said in an interview with NPR that there was a “profuse amount of blood” coming out of Reagan’s mouth so he ordered the change of destination because he was concerned about Reagan.

“I took a chance that day,” Parr said in the NPR interview, which aired before the recording was released. “But the doctor said if we went to the White House first, and then came back, he’d have been close to dying.”

Parr was slightly muddled when he called from the limo for an “ambulance, I mean get the, um, stretcher out there.”

The last thing Parr was heard saying on the clip was 22 seconds later when he said “Let’s hustle.”HINCKLEY

The clip also includes excerpts from the agent taking the shooter John Hinckley to jail and of agents trying to coordinate movements of first lady Nancy Reagan, referred to as “Rainbow”.

The Secret Service information was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Del Quentin Wilber, who was researching a book on the assassination attempt.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credits: Reuters/Jason Reed (Secret service agent at Obama campaign event in 2008), Reuters/Brendan Smialowski (Hinckley arrives at court in 2003 for a hearing)

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