President Reagan suggested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff double their estimate for the number of troops that would be needed for the 1983 invasion of Grenada. And one of the surprises about the 1981 assassination attempt by John W. Hinckley Jr. was that being shot wasn't at all what Reagan had come to expect from the movies.

These insights are in an unpublished transcript of a private interview with Reagan that we've had a peek at. Significantly, the interview was conducted before the Iran/contra scandal broke early last November. Reagan had reason to be relaxed about his record and popularity.

How does he make the tough decisions?

Reagan said, "On the really tough decisions, the ones in which there's so much right on both sides, I make the Cabinet go over the options in front of me.

"I use the Cabinet as a sort of board of directors, except for one thing: they don't vote. I have to make the decisions. But the hardest ones will always be those where you have to order our young men in uniform to go someplace where their lives will be endangered."

The Grenada invasion was one of those. "When the Joint Chiefs of Staff were entrusted with putting the mission together," the president said, "I made only one suggestion -- when you decide how many troops you think it'll take, double it."

Asked about the assassination attempt, Reagan said: "When I heard the shots, I thought they were firecrackers. After all those movies, I had always assumed that if you were shot, you grabbed yourself, looked agonized and fell down; you felt it when it hit you.

"I didn't. There was a paralyzing pain, but I thought {the Secret Service agent} had broken my rib when he fell on top of me. By the time I sat up and coughed up a handful of blood, I figured the rib had punctured my lung."

Asked about the pleasures of his high office, Reagan told about a lunch with columnist James J. Kilpatrick's daughter-in-law. Her husband was serving on a destroyer in the Mediterranean, and she hadn't seen him for months.

"So I slipped out and said to one of my aides, 'Get me Quartermaster Kilpatrick.' And in minutes the young man was informed that the White House was calling with his wife on the line.

"A few days later, he wrote me a letter with a line I'll never forget. He said it was as if God had called the Vatican and asked for an altar boy by name."

Reagan offered these views of allied leaders:British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: "I'm a great admirer of Mrs. Thatcher. I think we have much in common. She understands both the threat from abroad and the need to lessen the heavy hand of government at home." Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone: "He recognizes that his country is one of the great economic powers in the world today, and as such has the responsibility to support free market policies. I admire him very much." West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl: "A staunch ally of all the things that we believe in. His support in NATO and at economic summits has been greatly appreciated."