Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rawhide Down Revisits A Near Fatal Day In History

Rawhide DownMarch 30, 1981 will be forever known for its tragedies and triumphs. It is the same day that a deranged man shot President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to gain the attention of actress Jodie Foster.

It was also a day of heroics — at the scene and in the operating room — that tested a nation before it rallied together.

Anyone old enough to watch television remembers the video clips. Anyone who wasn't old enough has probably seen the clips since. Others have seen the film, The Day Reagan Was Shot, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Crenna, and Yannick Bisson.

None of it compares to the precision and detail of Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilber.

Set for release this March, the book reveals details that have never been made public before. To uncover them, Wilber conducted exhaustive interviews with the people involved, including medical staff, law enforcement, and the Secret Service.

He then delivers a riveting minute-by-minute account of what transpired and how close the President actually came to dying. It was much closer than anyone thought.

What Happened On March 30, 1981?

The day started out like any other, with an afternoon speaking engagement planned for Reagan. Everything had started as planned. At 1:45 p.m. a limo carrying the Reagan departs the White House and heads for the Washington Hilton, where he is to give the speech. At 2:03 p.m., he gives his speech to members of the AFL-CIO. At 2:25 p.m., the speech concludes.

And then, shortly after, everything changed. At 2:27 p.m., Reagan is shot as he leaves a back entrance of the hotel. Agent Jerry Parr shoves the president into the limo, and it speeds away. And the shooter is captured immediately.

At 2:30 p.m., the limo arrives at George Washington University Hospital, and Reagan insists on walking in under his own power. He is having trouble breathing, but still doesn’t know he has been shot. Shortly after walking into the hospital, he collapses.

It takes a full five minutes before the doctors notice a very small half-inch slit under the president’s armpit. At 2:57 p.m., Reagan is wheeled into the operating room. But by this time, he has lost nearly half of the blood in his body.

As the president nearly dies, the world becomes unhinged.

President Reagan, whom the Secret Service had code named Rawhide, is the only serving U. S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt. Also shot (but not killed) were James Brady, Reagan’s press secretary; Thomas Delahanty, a DC police officer who acted courageously during the gunfire; and Tim McCarthy, the Secret Service agent who heroically turned his body to put himself between the gunman and the president.

While Wilber reveals the drama playing out inside the hospital, he also accounts for the equally frightening drama unfolding inside the White House Situation Room. Cabinet members, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, had gathered to discuss what to do. And the questions they asked put the United States at the brink.

Who has the nuclear football? Who’s in charge until Vice President George H. W. Bush returns from Dallas? Should the military be ready for potential action? What should we tell the public, the world? What about Soviet subs patrolling unusually close to the United States? And what if the Soviets, sensing a lapse in leadership, invade Poland?

A Brief About Del Quentin Wilber.

Del Quentin WilberWilber is a reporter for the Washington Post and no stranger to covering sensitive security issues and law enforcement. In fact, it was shortly after he was promoted to cover the federal courts that Wilber took his craft to the next level, chronicling the the trial of former Senator Ted Stevens and writing about the complicated issues surrounding the detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Throughout his career, his work as a reporter earned Wilber the Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting in 2004, and he has been a Pulitzer Price finalist. He got the idea to write Rawhide Down shortly after attending a hearing for the would-be assassin and being handed the gun by an FBI agent who kept it in his drawer. Wilber currently lives in Washington D.C., with his his wife and two children

Rawhide Down By Del Quentin Wilber Turns The World Upside Down With 9 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This might seem an unusual pick at first glance, but Wiber does a masterful job at piecing together the events and provides a lucid and gripping tale of what happened. At the same time, he demonstrates the real talent of an objective journalist, pulling all of it off without a hint of political or personal bias that could color the account. He has also gone to great lengths to provide more documentation on the Rawhide Down website.

Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan is available on Amazon for preorder. The book will be released on March 15. It will also be available as an audiobook on CD. This review is based on an advance reader's copy from Henry Holt and Co.
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