On March 30, 1981, US Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr accompanied Ronald Reagan to the Washington Hilton Hotel where the president was to give a speech. Reagan had been in office just 69 days. Parr was head of the Presidential Protective Detail (PPD), and one of 66 agents providing security for this one event. The Secret Service had taken presidents and vice presidents to the Hilton 110 times since 1972, and nobody had died. Nobody had even come close. It was to be a routine stop for a routine speech.
As the president stepped out of the VIP elevator after the speech, Parr and the other agents surrounded him in a human barricade. Uniformed police stood guard on the sidewalk. Beyond them was the rope line where onlookers and members of the press eagerly awaited an opportunity to shout out a question or greeting. The president smiled and waved.
What happened next would shock the world.
John Hinckley, Jr. fired six shots in 1.7 seconds. The first bullet hit White House Press Secretary James Brady. The second hit District of Columbia Police Officer Thomas Delahanty. The third bullet went into a window of a building across the street. The fourth hit agent Tim McCarthy as he spread out his body in an attempt to protect the president. The fifth hit the bullet-proof window of the presidential limousine.
The sixth and final bullet struck the armored side of the limousine and ricocheted into President Reagan’s left armpit as Jerry Parr was hurling him through the door. Three seconds from the time the first shot was fired, the limousine was speeding away with Agent Parr and the president in the back seat. Nobody — not even the president himself — realized he had been shot.
In Chapter 9 of IN THE SECRET SERVICE, Jerry Parr shares his riveting, first-person account of that fateful day minute by minute — from the mad rush to “cover and evacuate,” to the decision to divert the motorcade to George Washington University Hospital, to the stomach-churning realization that the president of the United States had been wounded on his watch. It was every Secret Service agent’s worst nightmare, and Parr couldn’t help but relive the memory of the Kennedy assassination — and the sickening fear of losing another president.
Readers of IN THE SECRET SERVICE will understand why Jerry Parr said the Reagan assassination attempt was both the worst — and the best — day of his life.
Jerry Parr is best known as the 50-year-old Secret Service agent who saved President Reagan’s life, but his actions that day are only part of his remarkable story.
Born at the start of the Great Depression in 1930, Parr overcame a difficult childhood rocked by poverty, alcoholism, bullying and divorce, to become the trusted protector of some of the most powerful leaders in the world. He never forgot his blue-collar roots or strayed from his faith in God. After retiring from the Secret Service in 1985, Jerry Parr became an ordained minister, venturing into the streets of the poor in Washington, D.C., the hospices for victims of AIDS, and the mountain passes of war-torn El Salvador to help orphans. He died at a hospice center near his home in Washington in 2015.
What’s the story behind the 1939 film Code of the Secret Service?
Jerry Parr was 9 years old in 1939 when his father took him to see the film Code of the Secret Service starring Ronald Reagan as the dashing agent Brass Bancroft. From that day on, Parr dreamed of joining the Secret Service, and did so in 1962. Not long after the 1981 assassination attempt, Parr asked the president, “Did you know you were an agent of your own destiny?” and told Reagan how the movie had inspired him. The president laughed and said, “That was the cheapest film I ever made.”
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