Excerpt from Del Queintin Wilbur’s new book Rawhide Down, The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan:
As the president’s limousine hurtled away from the Hilton, Jerry Parr glanced out the Lincoln’s rear window. He counted three men down and wondered who had been hit. Turning, he noticed the telltale marks of a projectile’s impact on the right rear door’s bulletproof window. Parr had no idea what was happening. Was this a terrorist attack? Was the world at war? It occurred to him that he might have been hurt too, but he gave himself a quick once-over and decided he was fine. He took a deep breath, turned to the president, and helped him into the limousine’s right rear seat. Reagan sat slumped forward—he looked like an exhausted basketball player taking a breather on the bench.
“Were you hit?” Parr asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Reagan said. “I think you hurt my chest when you landed on top of me.”
Parr quickly examined Reagan’s mouth and nose for damage or obstructions, then ran his hands along the president’s white shirt and through his hair. He felt nothing unusual. He inspected his own hands. No blood. Thank God, he thought.
Parr fumbled for the radio strapped to his belt, but it wasn’t there. In the scramble for the car, it had been ripped away from his earpiece and sleeve microphone. Parr swiveled to the limousine’s driver, Drew Unrue. “Give me the radio.”
Unrue handed him the microphone, its cord connected to the dashboard.
“Rawhide is OK, follow-up,” Parr radioed agent Ray Shaddick in the follow-up car. “Rawhide is OK.”
“You want to go to the hospital or back to the White House?” Shaddick asked.
“We’re going, we’re going to Crown,” Parr said, using the code name for the White House.
“OK,” Shaddick replied.
A few seconds later, Parr turned back to Reagan. Despite his assurance that he was all right, the president looked as if he was in pain.
“I think you hurt my rib,” he growled. “I’m having trouble breathing.”
“Is it your heart?” Parr asked.
“I don’t think so,” Reagan replied.
Reagan was pressing his left arm hard against his chest. Reaching into his right jacket pocket, he pulled out a paper napkin that he’d taken from the hotel’s holding room. He wiped it on his lips. When he pulled the napkin away, it was coated in blood.
“I think I cut the inside of my mouth,” the president said.
Half kneeling, half sitting in the speeding limousine, Parr leaned in and studied the napkin. Then he spotted more blood on the president’s lips.