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A Note to Readers
The Day the President Was Shot is a story of courage, split-second decision making, superior training, and clear thinking. It is also a story of obsession and mental illness. These elements come together, of course, in the moment John Hinckley shoots the president, thinking he will impress a movie star, and a moment later when Agent Jerry Parr shoves Ronald Reagan into a limousine.
There are so many what-ifs in this heart-stopping story. What if John Hinckley had been identified as a threat when he was nabbed trying to get guns through airport security in Nashville? What if he hadn’t been able to buy replacement guns? What if the president hadn’t stopped to wave to fans who were standing close to him outside the hotel? What if Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy hadn’t spread his body around Reagan’s and taken a bullet? What if Jerry Parr hadn’t noticed the bloody handkerchief Reagan lowered from his mouth? What if Washington, D.C., traffic had delayed driver Drew Unrue’s arrival at the hospital?
Every single second counts.
The strength of character of the men hired to guard, drive, and protect Ronald Reagan began to save his life. The skill and speed of the emergency room staff, doctors, and nurses completed the task.
This book is a tribute to them—medical staff who work to heal each patient as if he or she is the president of the United States, and the men and women tasked with protecting world leaders. The best of them display the selflessness of true patriots.
Washington Hilton Hotel
Washington, D.C. ★ March 30, 1981 ★ 2:27 p.m.
It takes just 1.7 seconds for John Hinckley to fire all six bullets.
The would-be assassin is immediately punched in the head by a nearby spectator, then gang-tackled by the crowd. Hinckley is buried beneath several hundred pounds of angry citizens as Secret Service agents try to take him alive. Ironically, their job now is to protect Hinckley with the same energy they devote to protecting the president.
As John Hinckley is subdued, three of his victims are fighting for their lives.
One of them is the fortieth president of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Convention Center Music Hall
Cleveland, Ohio ★ October 28, 1980 ★ 9:30 p.m.
Five months before the attempted assassination, Ronald Reagan strides to his lectern for the 1980 presidential debate. The former movie star and two-term governor of California is hoping to become president of the United States at the relatively advanced age of sixty-nine. His hair is black and his high cheekbones are noticeably rosy. At six feet one, 190 pounds, Reagan stands tall and straight, but his appearance does not intimidate: rather, he looks to be approachable and kind. With more than fifty movies and many television shows to his credit, Ronald Reagan is a familiar face to most Americans.
The governor’s opponent is incumbent president Jimmy Carter. At five feet nine and155 pounds, the slender Carter has the build of a man who ran cross-country in college. In fact, the president still makes time for four miles a day. Carter is a political junkie, immersing himself in every last nuance of a campaign. He has made a huge surge in the polls over the last month. Carter knows that with one week until the election, the race is dead even. The winner of this debate will most likely win the presidency.
As both Reagan and Carter well know, the 1970s have been a brutal time for America. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned under suspicion of criminal activity in the Watergate affair. The unchecked growth of the Soviet Union’s war machine and the American failure to win the Vietnam War have tilted the global balance of power. At home, inflation, interest rates, and unemployment rates are sky-high. Gasoline shortages have led to mile-long lines at the pumps. And worst of all is the ongoing humiliation of fifty-two hostages still held in Iran after radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. A rescue attempt six months later failed miserably, resulting in the deaths of eight American servicemen. One week from today, when U.S. citizens go to the polls to pick a president, those fifty-two hostages will have spent exactly one year in captivity.
The United States of America is still very much a superpower, but an air of defeat, not hope, now defines its national outlook. The American public—Democrat and Republican alike—is in a patriotic mood. People long for a return to simple, straightforward American values.
The small theater in which the debate will unfold was built shortly after World War I, at a time when America had flexed its muscle on the world stage and first assumed global prominence. But tonight, there is a single question on the minds of many of the three thousand people in the auditorium and the 80.6 million watching on television:
Can America be fixed, or are the best days of the United States in the past?
Copyright © 2016 by Bill O'Reilly