EUREKA – The author of a book on the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan says there are lessons to be learned from what happened during the afternoon of March 30, 1981.
According to Los Angeles Times reporter Del Quentin Wilber, who wrote “Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan,” the incident showed the importance of level-headed leadership and not overreacting in a crisis.
He added it also showed the need for avoiding complacency and increasing security around the president.
Wilbert was the keynote speaker at a dinner Wednesday night at Reagan's alma mater, Eureka College, sponsored by the Ronald W. Reagan Society of EC. Wednesday would have been the 108th birthday of the 40th President of the United States who passed away in 2004.
“Reagan really showed his character that day,” said Wilber. “You cannot fake it when you're shot.”
He added Reagan’s sense of humor and his caring for others both evident that day.
Not once but twice, Wilber reports in his book, Reagan quipped to medical personnel that he hoped there were “all Republicans” — to which the lead doctor, Joe Giordano, replied, “Today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans.”
When Reagan saw his wife, Nancy, come in, visibly shaken, he tried to put her at ease by saying, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”
According to Wilber, most people do not realize how close Reagan came to dying. The bullet lodged inches from his heart and he lost about half his blood volume.
"He came within two to three minutes of dying," said Wilber, who credited several actions by Secret Service agent Jerry Parr with saving Reagan's life, as he quickly shoved him into the limousine when shots rang out, also recognized Reagan was seriously injured and diverted the limousine to a nearby hospital rather than the White House for prompt treatment.
Wilber noted the assassination attempt changed Reagan.
“He felt he had been spared for a purpose,” and focused his efforts on decreasing the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The shooting also “built a bond between Reagan and the American people.”
As a reporter who covers criminal justice and national security matters from the Washington Times' District of Columbia bureau, Wilber declined to make comparisons between the Reagan administration and the Donald Trump administration.
“It was a different era,” he said. “Trump is not Reagan, but (Barack) Obama was not Reagan either. … and (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin is not (former Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev.”
Wilber did cite one example of “how times have changed.”
The first person to see Reagan after the shooting, outside of his family and people in his administration, was Tip O'Neill, a Democrat who was the House Speaker at the time, noted Wilber, “and they prayed together.”
“Would that happen today?” asked Wilber, without answering his own question.