Meet Jerry Parr. In 1981, he was the agent standing next to Ronald Reagan when John Hinckley, Jr., stepped out of the crowd, intent on killing the president. In the Secret Service is an adrenaline-filled ride through the life of the agent who saved Ronald Reagan’s life. Jerry spent much of his life as a silent eyewitness to history, with a gun at his fingertips. What motivates a man who is ready at a moment’s notice to step into the path of a bullet? In In the Secret Service, you’ll also follow Jerry’s inner journey. That journey led him from the halls of the powerful to the streets of the poor in Washington, D.C., to the mountain passes of war-torn El Salvador to help orphans.
You won’t want to miss this insider’s perspective on the Secret Service and a look into the heart of a man who was—and is—ready to sacrifice himself for another. At times heart-pounding, at times heartrending, this richly textured memoir of a Secret Service Agent will first move you to the edge of your seat, then to the depths of your soul. Tyndale House Publishers
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
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IN THE SECRET SERVICE
THE TRUE STORY OF THE MAN WHO SAVED PRESIDENT REAGAN'S LIFE
By JERRY PARR, CAROLYN PARR, Jonathan Schindler
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Jerry and Carolyn Parr
All rights reserved.
JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE
I have a rendezvous with Death At some disputed barricade.... And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous. ALAN SEEGER, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death"
MARCH 30, 1981
It had been almost forty-two years since I saw that B movie at the Tower Theater, and I was a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the actor in that movie, who was now playing the role of a lifetime: the president of the United States. For the past eighteen years I'd worked my way through the ranks in the Service—investigating stolen checks, standing post, working shifts, doing advances—and now I was lead agent for the special detail that protected the president.
When I was younger, I was fascinated by the poem "I Have a Rendezvous with Death," by Alan Seeger. I had even memorized it decades ago and have returned to it often. The poem makes the encounter with Death seem as calm and natural as watching the trees return to life, "when Spring comes back with rustling shade and apple-blossoms fill the air."
Death is talked about not in cold, impersonal descriptions but in warm terms such as "rendezvous" and in personal images of Death taking the poet's hand. For the poet, death is not an encounter to be feared but an appointment to be kept. God is in it. Hope is in it. And so is courage.
There was another man enchanted by this poem. When John F. Kennedy returned from his honeymoon in October 1953, he read "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" to his young wife, Jacqueline, telling her it was his favorite poem. After that, she memorized the poem, often reciting it to him privately. Her soft voice and unhurried accent seemed to calm him, giving him the resolve he needed to face the future he felt awaited him.
In 1963, Jacqueline taught the poem to Caroline, their five-year-old daughter. On October 5, 1963, when the now—President Kennedy was meeting with his National Security Council in the Rose Garden, his young daughter slipped into the meeting and sidled next to him. She tugged at him to get him to notice her. The president dismissed her, but in a way only a young daughter can, she kept trying to get his attention. The president turned to her, smiling. Caroline looked into his eyes and recited the poem. She recited it flawlessly, with perfect diction. When she finished, no one spoke. It seemed not simply a sweet moment but a sacred one. A sense of reverence permeated the silence, touching everyone.
Seven weeks later, this little girl's father made his rendezvous with Death at the disputed barricade of Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.
A day that has haunted the memory of every American. And every Secret Service agent.
Now, almost eighteen years after that rendezvous, I was an agent, tasked with protecting the president. I was part of the barricade between him and Death. And my sole purpose was to make sure this was the one appointment he would not keep.
* * *
March 30, 1981, started for me in the predawn chill, where I jogged around our neighborhood in North Potomac, Maryland. A small, sequestered suburb northwest of DC, it had been carved out of a forest near the Potomac River. The subdivisions had bucolic names like Travilah Meadows, Quail Run, and Mills Farm, and they lived up to their names, forming a quiet respite from the bustling streets of the nation's capital.
It was a spring day, not blue and fair but gray and overcast as I drove into DC. And although the first meadow flowers had appeared in some well-manicured parts of the city, the more than three thousand cherry trees there had not yet blossomed to fill the air with their delicate scent.
The first thing I did when I arrived for work that morning was to sign in for target practice at the gun range in the basement of the old post office building. I was dressed for work in a plain, blue-gray, blend-in-with-the-crowd suit and tie, my gun holstered beneath my unbuttoned coat. As I faced downrange, I spread my feet to square with my shoulders. I relaxed my arms, shaking my hands at my sides to loosen them.
As an agent, I'd had it drilled into me that the one thing I could never do was freeze. In a crisis, an agent doesn't have time to think. Reactions need to be instinctive. So much as a blink or a balk, and I would be a dead man. Or worse—the president would be a dead man.
With a sudden, jarring sound, the target turned from being a thin piece of paper to a man with a pistol. Immediately I flipped open my coat with my right hand, grabbed the butt of my gun with my left, and fired two shots that drilled the paper assassin.
My gun was a stubby Smith & Wesson Model 19, with a six-round chamber that could be changed out in three to four seconds. The impact on the hand was brutal, but the impact on the target was even more so. The .38-caliber bullets burst from the two-and-a-half-inch barrel at a speed of 1,110 feet per second. If the bullet didn't kill you, the blow from the bullet would knock you off balance—if not off your feet. With the Service using hollow points, though, if the bullet did hit you, it would likely be lethal.
When you are protecting the most important leader in the world, lethal is what you want. You don't want to give an assassin a chance to shoot once, let alone a second chance. You want to drop him the way I dropped that target in the shooting range.
After cleaning my gun, I left for "the office." The office for me was known as W-16, located in the bowels of the White House, directly under the Oval Office. It was the Secret Service's command center, the central nervous system for protecting the president and other key leaders and their families. Intelligence was routed to us there—field reports, surveillance feeds, wiretaps—up-to-date intel on people who were known threats. The Service receives threats every day on the lives of those they are assigned to protect—especially on the life of the president. The lower his approval rating is, the higher the number of threats. And since taking office, President Reagan's approval rating had plummeted.
The president had been in office just seventy days. For the first week after his inauguration, every time the president left the safety of the White House, I stuck so close I could smell his aftershave. But for the next seven weeks after that, others in the management team had been with him while I attended the Federal Executive Institute. Now back at the White House, I felt today would be a good day to spend time with him and get to know him. Although an agent never wants to get on too-friendly terms with the president, you do want to be able to do the best job of protecting him, and that involves knowing him. Knowing how fast he walks or how slow. Knowing how often he stops along a rope line to greet the public and for how long. Knowing whether he is cautious or cavalier. Is he immediately compliant to an agent's suggestions, is he momentarily hesitant, or is he resistant to the point that the agent has to persuade him? In scenarios where every second counts, knowledge like this can be lifesaving.
Johnny Guy was the agent assigned to travel with the president to the Washington Hilton that afternoon, where he was to give a short speech to a labor union within the AFLCIO. I talked to Guy sometime after ten in the morning to ask if I could take his place. He agreed.
I called my wife, Carolyn, at her office to tell her that I would be accompanying the president to the Hilton and that if she wanted to see him, his motorcade would be across the street. She was a trial lawyer for the IRS at the time, and she had a fourth-floor office in the Universal North Building, with a window that looked down on T Street. She was glad I called and eager to see the president, if only for a moment.
It was a routine route for a routine stop for a routine speech. But that's the rub: routine is the enemy of every agent. With routine comes boredom. With boredom comes distraction and letting down your guard. When that happens, people die.
We had taken presidents and vice presidents to the Washington Hilton 110 times since 1972, and nobody had died. Nobody had even come close. An advance search of the hotel had been done, along with the strategic assignment of agents, sixty-six for this event, plus police. Had we been scheduled for an out-of-Washington trip—say, in Baltimore—we would have used twice that number.
Paul Mobley and Mary Ann Gordon headed up transportation. Both had done the route to the Hilton before, as well as numerous runs to the hospital. They had put the motorcade in place—a caravan of vehicles, each with different duties assigned to those riding in them. There was a lead car that set the pace at twenty-five miles per hour, which would stop for nothing unless it hit someone. There was a tail car, a van with eight agents, and a pilot car, all looking for suspicious vehicles along the route. There were a few ancillary cars, like a spare car with protective support and technicians, a communications car, and a staff car. There was the control car, which would include Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Deaver. Finally, there was the president's limousine, which was code-named Stagecoach. Every inch of it was bullet proof, covered in level-4 armor. It weighed six and a half tons and stretched nearly twenty-two feet. There was even an "emergency motorcade" of four vehicles parked at the hotel, should a quick escape be needed. All total, fifteen vehicles.
We had plotted a protected route with police officers assigned to block off intersections along the way. The plan was to arrive at the VIP entrance; otherwise we would have to go to the hotel's basement, where we would have some twelve hundred cars to check out. Then, when the motorcade stopped at the entrance, where uniformed police formed a perimeter of protection, the car doors would open with strategic synchronization, and the president would be whisked away to the hotel ballroom.
It was all very regimented. And all very routine.
In spite of how well rehearsed our responsibilities were, the risks were real. You know that danger is out there—real danger—you just don't know where. Absence of evidence doesn't mean evidence of absence. Just because there is no sign of a threat doesn't mean there isn't one. The problem isn't what you know; it's what you don't know. Not what you see or hear, but what you don't see, don't hear. It's the open window you don't notice. Or the sound from a book depository that takes you a second too long to recognize as a gunshot.
Not only do you have to be vigilant; you have to be hypervigilant.
Ever since I joined the agency in 1962, a number of people had died. President Kennedy had been assassinated. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Governor George Wallace survived an assassination attempt but was paralyzed. President Ford had escaped two attempts on his life. And civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.
President Kennedy, Wallace, and Ford had been under the protection of the Secret Service. The others were not.
In some cases, agents were negligent. In others, they were vigilant.
In all cases, life or death was determined by seconds.
Sometimes split seconds.
* * *
I had assigned Bill Green to work the advance on the president's trip to the Hilton, which he started on March 25. His job was to draw up a security plan that pinpointed where each agent was to be stationed in and around the hotel. He was to make sure a background check was done on everyone scheduled to meet with the president during his visit, however briefly. He was also responsible for inspecting the ballroom, the hotel basement, the holding room, the stairwells, the elevators, and the VIP entrance.
Though it was the first time Bill had done this at the Hilton, his preparations were thorough, down to the smallest detail. He visited the hotel on Friday for another inspection, then again on Saturday. On Sunday he made a few final calls before finishing his security report, which he handed in first thing on Monday, March 30. He checked the latest intel, and he was told that there was nothing on the radar in terms of threats to the president's appearance that day.
The trip to the Hilton was so routine that I decided bulletproof vests weren't necessary. Besides, it was a muggy day, with rain, and vests were hot and uncomfortable. I sat in the front passenger seat; the president sat behind me. We drove down Connecticut Avenue, got on 18th Street, and made a left onto T Street, which took us to the hotel. When we stopped at the designated entrance, police and other agents were waiting for us. I got out of the car first to pull the coded switch on the president's door—a tricky thing because if you don't do it just right, the system has to be rebooted before you can open the door.
President Reagan, a probusiness Republican, was at odds with the largely Democratic labor unions. But he had been invited to speak and felt a sense of responsibility to come. When Reagan had worked as an actor in Hollywood, he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, a union under the auspices of the very group to which he was scheduled to speak. And so he felt a certain kinship with the audience.
Once inside, I ushered the president into the elevator that led to the permanent holding room. As we ascended the platform, I picked another agent to stand near the president so I could sit behind him to survey the room. I had a good eye, trained to see trembling hands, darting eyes, sweat on the forehead ... a disturbed look on the face ... clothes or shoes that didn't fit in ... a bulge in an overcoat ... a purse clutched a little too tightly.
After Reagan was introduced, he stood behind the armored podium to speak. But I wasn't paying attention to the speech; I was paying attention to the crowd, looking with eyes that could cut steel they were so intense. An agent's eyes are weapons, every bit as intimidating as a semiautomatic. I sat with a face as cold and hard as if it had been cut from Mount Rushmore and scanned the ballroom, searching for a face that was every bit as cold and hard as mine, for eyes every bit as intense.
One of the things agents are looking for is a gun. We are trained to shout whenever we see one—"Gun right" if an agent sees someone with a gun to the right or "Gun left" or "Gun in front." Depending on the type of threat and where the threat is, I might push the president down behind the podium, cover him with my body on the stage, or evacuate him from the stage.
When President Reagan finished speaking, the audience rose to applaud. But the speech wasn't his best, and the gesture was more respectful than enthusiastic. With agents flanking his sides, the president stopped to shake a few hands, then we escorted him to the elevator.
In the meantime, Carolyn had lost track of time. She had received a call at 1:45 and became so engrossed that she forgot all about seeing the president. When she suddenly realized what time it was, she looked out the window, and the motorcade was still parked across the street. Even though it was rainy, she grabbed her purse and rushed downstairs to the sidewalk, shortly before the president emerged from the Hilton.
When the VIP elevator at the Hilton opened, the other agents and I surrounded the president in a human barricade we called the "diamond formation." The diamond had four points. Tim McCarthy was positioned in front, Eric Littlejohn in the rear. Jim Varey was stationed at the right, Dale McIntosh at the left. Ray Shaddick and I were inside the diamond on either side of the president. Shaddick was in "POTUS Left" position, I was "POTUS Right," eighteen inches behind the president. Shaddick carried a bulletproof steel slab to protect the president in case of an attack, coated with leather so as not to appear foreboding. Bringing up the rear was Bob Wanko, the gunman with an Uzi in a briefcase, again so as not to appear foreboding.
As we opened the door to the outside, uniformed police in raincoats stood guard on the sidewalk that was wet from an earlier shower. Beyond them was the rope line, where a gaggle of around thirty onlookers and members of the press eagerly awaited an opportunity to shout out a greeting or a question. All my senses were keenly alert, scanning the surroundings for any possible threat—any person that seemed out of place or out of sorts, any door that might be ajar, any window that might be open, any sudden movement, any startling sound. All the while, I was plotting an ever-changing escape route if something did happen. If a threat presented itself as we walked out the door, I would pull the president into the building; if we were closer to the limousine, I would push him into the car.
Carolyn was across the street, standing on the fringe of a small crowd that had gathered there, craning her neck to catch a glimpse of the new president.
Excerpted from IN THE SECRET SERVICE by JERRY PARR, CAROLYN PARR, Jonathan Schindler. Copyright © 2013 Jerry and Carolyn Parr. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 My Rendezvous With Death 5
1 Just Another Day at the Office 7
2 Inauspicious Beginnings 19
3 From New York to Dallas: "The President Is Dead" 47
4 Vietnam: Going from Bad to Worse 79
5 1968: The Year from Hell 113
6 Two Deaths 133
7 Sinners and Statesmen: Watergate and the World 151
8 Up and Down the Ladder 177
9 Shots Fired! Men Down! 215
Part 2 My Encounter With Grace 241
10 From the White House to the Potter's House 243
11 Descent into Joy 267
Letter from Jerry S. Parr to the Agents on President Reagan's Protective Detail, April 3, 1981 291
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very good book can't get enough of it
Good Book. This was an interesting book. I knew that the secret service agents job was to protect the President but I wasn't aware of all the little details that go into such a big responsibility. The author gives the reader a peek into his life from a young child to a retired secret service agent.
It was pretty interesting. I had trouble following the events in the first few chapters since he kept going back and forth between his childhood and a later period of his life. The second part of the book talked more about the author's spiritual journey. I liked reading about all the missions he and his wife were involved in.
It isn’t often you hear real stories about the Secret Service. At least I haven’t. Prior to reading this book, my only knowledge of the Secret Service was basic, and what I’ve seen in movies and on television. I still don’t know a lot about it, but what I’ve learned by reading Jerry Parr’s perspective on the Secret Service is eye opening, and heartrending. I can’t imagine the stress one goes through in his time as a Secret Service agent. The fear, mistrust, and ultimately, dedication it takes risk your own death. Isn’t dying for your fellow man the ultimate love? Isn’t this the definition of an American Hero? Not only was Jerry Parr loyal to our country and President, but also he and his wife, Carolyn, are steadfast in their work for God. Usually, most things to do with Politics, especially books and movies, make me sprint in the other direction, but this book is so much more than U.S. Government policies and power. It’s a fascinating memoir that shares front seat access of historical events, and personal life-stories. Infused with faith, humor, and passion, this book is going on my keeper shelf. Highly recommended.
This book is fascinating as it gives you an inside look at protecting our presidents as Jerry Parr, a Secret Service agent for many years, tells of his experiences. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a secret service man? Do you get to meet famous people? Do you have vacations with your family? If you go on vacation with the president or vice president, is it fun or work? Do you work on holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving? Why did Jerry Parr sometimes feel like a walking zombie? Sometimes he only got four hours of sleep a night. When one sheriff insisted on running the county his way when it came to closing down the highway, what mistake did he make that caused a major road problem? When Vice President Humphrey failed to thank the service agents when he got back to Washington D.C., what did he do that made them feel thanked? This book shows a different side of politics. The agents really liked the Spiro Agnews who were appreciative of their service and even came to the Parr’s party so no agent had to miss it. When serving with the Foreign Dignitary Protective Division as one of four experienced agents charged with the safety of visiting heads of state when they were in the US, Mr. Parr was even asked by the Japanese whether he remembered Pearl Harbor and would he be able to protect the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. In another high profile case with a 1000 hostile demonstrators at the Waldorf and 300 media types waiting in the VIP entrance, the agents managed to walk Arafat into the service section and up to his room. After serving on the vice-president and Foreign Dignitary Protective Divisions, Jerry Parr was moved to president detail where there was much more anxiety, threats, agents, press attention, perks, and micromanagement. There is much more in this book that’s fascinating that you won’t want to miss.
Very interesting book! Jerry Parr was the Secret Service Agent who was standing next to Ronald Reagan when he was shot in 1981 and it was his actions that contributed to the saving of Reagan’s life. But this book is so much more than that! Parr had been in the Secret Service for over 18 years at that time, protecting vice-presidents, foreign dignitaries, as well as presidents. The hours were long and the time away from family hard. But this was a job Mr. Parr excelled at and enjoyed. One interesting tidbit was learning that as a child Jerry had gone to the movies with his father and seen the movie “Code of the Secret Service” staring Ronald Reagan. Well written and interesting book!
A factual, largely nonemotive book This book is an autobiography that doesn't cover all of the author's life. It is not a quick intro and then straight into the account of saving President Reagan. And it is written in a mostly straightforward, matter of fact way. The chronology was easy to follow overall, which is sometimes not the case with autobiographies. I enjoyed the book - the insider's perspective of the Secret Service (at least as it was then) was interesting and different from other books I've read. The book is not particularly engaging, however, and I could have put it down without a burning desire to pick it up again to see what happened next. That's why I say this is an "average" book, but average doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile. Even though the conclusion felt unfinished, this book is still worth reading.
This book was absolutely fantastic! The flow, the story, and the writing style were all great. And most of all it was incredibly intriguing to learn about the lives of the Secret Service, to have an inside scoop into some presidents and vice presidents, and to learn about the Reagan assassination attempt. I was also very touched and impressed with the second part of the book, after Jerry’s retirement. I will definitely be re-reading this in the future, and already have someone in mind to buy it as a birthday present.
Fascinating memoir of a live of service This whole book held my attention from start to finish. Jerry Parr joined the Secret Service when I was a toddler and served until I was a young mother - so much of the history he was part of was familiar to me, but some in only a vague way. His experiences filled in the fascinating details - really brought things to life. This man continues to serve, long after he left government service - following God wherever He calls. It's a fascinating read and I recommend it most highly!!
In the Secret Service did not seem like a book for me. It was on Tyndale’s 2014 Summer Reading Program list and the local library had the audio book. So, I went ahead and checked it out. I was quite pleased with the book. Jerry Parr has led an intriguing life. He tells of his childhood, marriage, and his profession before becoming a secret service agent. He tells of life serving as an agent with Presidents, Vice Presidents, as well as, other world leaders he had to protect. It was interesting to learn about these people. Especially, when Jerry tells about protecting President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan truly sounded like an extraordinary, unselfish, caring and giving man. Such an inspiration hearing of fight to survive from being shot. His will, faith, and attitude through it all was amazing. He even continued his humor throughout the ordeal. I was intrigued with Jerry’s life after being a secret service agent. He and his wife, Carolyn, are uplifting, faithful, and admirable people. We could all learn so much from those two. Their messages are so powerful. I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was uplifting, interesting, and thought provoking. Great book! Highly recommended. 5 stars.
An Impressive and Inspiring Personal Memoir. This is written in a comfortable style, as if Jerry Parr were in the room talking to you. I was impressed by how interesting it was. There was plenty of background about his many assignments, with technical and personal details to clarify the scenarios. From the first chapter, the buildup was as intriguing as expected. The most dramatic and tense assignment, as depicted on the cover, was well presented. I was also impressed by the diligence and professionalism these agents evidenced. The photos were a great bonus. I enjoyed the glimpses of each President’s humor and personable nature. Jerry and Carolyn’s faith walk, their love of God and charity to the poor, and their spiritual growth were inspiring.
This was such an interesting book! An autobiography of the Secret Service Agent who was protecting President Reagan when he was shot, Jerry Parry has led a very interesting life. He was born during the Depression and as a child had a dream of working in the protection industry after seeing a movie starring (who else (!) Ronald Reagan as a Secret Service Agent. He was able to watch history unfold literally around the world at a very close up level. He served his country for several decades and saw the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, several presidential elections, protected heads of state and royalty from around the world, working with integrity and along with his accomplished wife, raising a family (three daughters) at the same time. Following his retirement, Jerry & Carolyn began to serve their fellow man as Jerry studied to become a counselor, pastor, and missionary. His wife Carolyn is a federal tax judge and they have dedicated themselves to serving God and others. I found this book fascinating and well written. I can easily recommend it!
What an incredible autobiography. Jerry Parr's life story was told from his childhood until the time he wrote the book. His entire life is a life of service. I enjoyed the book for many reasons. First was that a lot of the history happened when I was not yet born or when I was a child, clueless about the political scene. Secondly Parr was on Vice Presidential Protection for a lot of his career with the Secret Service. Therefore, he wrote more about Vice Presidents, than the presidents during specific times in history. Yes he wrote about history, but often the parts that I didn't hear about. He did an excellent job telling about them as people, not just politicians. I found it fascinating to learn about the people behind the scenes, so to speak. Some went about their lives as though the Agents weren't even there. Some treated them with respect and appreciation. He wrote about the assassination attempt on Reagan from both a professional point of view, and a personal point of view. How he did his job, and how he felt about it. All of his life prepared him for the role he would play that fateful day.
I loved this book! I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves history and wants to read about the real heroes who protect our leaders.