Today, on March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot coming out of a hotel. Thanks to the quick thinking of a Secret Service agent, President Reagan was rushed to George Washington Hospital and underwent surgery to remove a bullet that was just lodged just an inch away from his heart. As part of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History program, members of the Reagan administration recounted what it was like to be part of that moment in history and how it changed (or did not change) Reagan and his presidency.
As James Miller, Office of Management and Budget Director, recounted:
“The notion that they knew all along that something was seriously wrong is not correct. They found out when they arrived at the hospital, but they didn't know in that immediate response. But the President was quite ill. It was a life-threatening thing.”
On Monday, the Miller Center Forum program will host Del Quentin Wilbur, author of Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan. The book follows the extraordinary minute-by-minute details of that day and reveals how close President Reagan came to dying.
“Rawhide” was President Reagan’s Secret Service code name and is number 7 on Time magazine’s Top 10 Secret Service Code Names. Last week, GQ magazine revealed the secret service code names chosen by Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. The names chosen by the two Republican candidates are “Javelin” for Romney, possibly after a 1960s car made by American Motors Corporation (a company once run by his father), and “Petrus” for Santorum, which might refer to St. Peter, the first pope (Santorum is Catholic). President Obama’s code name is “Renegade.”
“The use of code words to refer to candidates are a throwback to the era when Secret Service and White House Communications Agency communications were not encrypted. The tradition has stuck around. The only real rule the Service has is that the word chosen be comprehensible over the radio and not be similar to someone's else's. That's why code names tend to have two or three strong syllables.”