To Protect and Serve

  • Posted on: 28 December 2011
  • By: TedG

As our group delves into Blue Blood this month, I am reminded this is our second look into the world of law enforcement (of the nonfiction variety). The first time we visited this topic was in early 2010 when we read Joseph Petro’s Standing Next to History: An Agent's Life Inside the Secret Service (written with Jeffrey Robinson), an account of one man’s 23-year career with that enigmatic agency, focusing especially on his four years protecting President Ronald Reagan.  

Petro’s memoir is not filled with macho story-telling and name-dropping. Instead he provides a very rare glimpse into how “the job is not about taking a bullet for the president, it’s about doing everything possible to prevent that decision from ever having to be made.” “Everything possible” translates into an incredible amount of detail-oriented planning, evaluation, and preparation before a site is even approved for a presidential visit. I don’t remember, and looking back through the book, it’s difficult to determine if Petro was with Reagan the day he was shot in March 1981. He talks about that day in Chapter 1, but it is in the context of a brief history of high-profile assassination attempts and successes, and the creation of Secret Service. He talks about John Hinckley’s attempt on the president’s life from a detached perspective, not as the re-telling of a personal memory. Regardless, Petro’s story is engrossing, and as someone who grew up in the Reagan era, it was interesting for me to recall these events that I remember hearing about and watching on television, history that Petro literally stood next to. I’m also a fan of back-story, so I liked reading about what was going on behind scenes of the political events that we saw on the evening news. Aside from Reagan, Petro also served on protection details for Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Pope John Paul II, and Dan Quayle. That’s a lot of history, and it all makes for a good story.

The five of us who discussed Standing Next to History ranked it a 4 (out of 5) for both readability and interest. The lack of “action” may make it a slow read for those looking for a nonfiction thriller, but if you are looking for a genuine account of how protecting and serving takes place in the real world (pre-9/11 anyway), this is worthy of your time.