I love nonfiction books that point you to a specific point in time that may have lasted from several minutes to an entire day, and every facet of that event is digested and rolled over and over again, analyzing that particularly momentous moment in history. In the case of Rawhide Down, the event on display lasted merely 1.6 seconds.
Del Quentin Wilber captures the near-assassination of former President Ronald Reagan as though the book stood as a telling photograph of that entire day. Not a beat is missed as all hell breaks loose and the players on the stage of this dramatic occurrence freeze, Matrix-style, as the author walks his readers around the commotion, pointing out the structure of the armored limousine that would provide safety to the president and his body guard, Jerry Parr. The would-be assassin goes unnoticed hiding behind a noisy heckler as he steadily fingers his $45 RG 14 revolver, loaded with explosive bullets. Wilber goes into the history of the Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy who was hoping to avoid duty that day so that he wouldn’t get his new suit wet in the rain, and that he never would have known he would become a human shield for the president, taking a bullet to the chest.
Acts of heroism from others such as officer Thomas Delahanty, press secretary James Brady, and Drs. Benjamin Aaron and Joseph Giordano are put on display for us to give our thanks to and honor, for saving the president’s life that day in March 1981.
Here is an excerpt from the book, which I highly recommend anyone to read.
President Reagan has just been informed that he will be undergoing surgery at the George Washington Memorial Hospital in D.C.:
Looking up from the gurney, Reagan spotted Jerry Parr, one of the few familiar faces within view. “I hope they are all Republicans,” he said through his mask. Parr smiled, but he was too anxious to laugh. Reagan would repeat the line later, to better effect.
One nurse monitoring the president’s vital signs was startled by his attempt at humor; given his condition, she didn’t think it was a good time to be joking around. Another nurse was amazed at how calm Reagan seemed. And everyone working around the gurney was impressed by his courtesy.
“I don’t mean to trouble you,” the president said to one of his doctors, “but I am still having trouble breathing.”