Photo Of The Day

Oliver W. Sipple (left) intervened by lunging towards Sara Jane Moore and diverting the direction of the gun she fired in an attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford as the President was leaving the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square.

Oliver W. Sipple (left) intervened by lunging towards Sara Jane Moore and diverting the direction of the gun she fired in an attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford as the President was leaving the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square.

The Oliver Sipple Case

On September 22th 1975, Oliver Sipple was walking past the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco where the then President Gerald Ford was scheduled to speak. As he moved forward to get a better look at the speech, he noticed the woman standing next to him reach into her raincoat and pull out a revolver. Instinctively, Sipple grabbed for her arm and deflected it as she pulled the trigger. The bullet, intended for the president, ricocheted off the wall and wounded another man in the crowd. Sipple, a decorated Vietnam vet, tackled the assailant, prevented her from shooting again and handed her over to the Secret Service.

Oliver Sipple was immediately hailed in the national press, and received thousands of letters. However, President Ford only sent him a short note, and avoided a personal meeting. News organizations wondered why the White House was avoiding Sipple; although he was openly gay, Sipple’s sexual orientation was a secret from his family and employers; he asked the press to keep his sexuality off the record. However, news organizations refused to comply.

The gay community thought it was a great opportunity too; while discussing whether Sipple’s sexuality be disclosed, Harvey Milk noted: “It’s too good an opportunity. For once we can show that gays do heroic things, not just all that caca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms.” Milk further suggested that Sipple’s sexual orientation was the reason he received only a note, rather than an invitation to the White House — something newspapers took and ran with.

Herb Caen, a columnist at The San Francisco Chronicle, finally ‘outed’ Sipple as gay. The Chicago Sun-Times called him a ‘Homosexual Hero’; The Denver Post was more pithy: ‘Gay Vet’. Back in Detroit, Sipple’s staunch Baptist family became the subject of ridicule and abuse by friends and neighbors. His mother refused to talk to him and when she died in 1979, his father told him not to come to the funeral.

Sipple filed a $15 million invasion of privacy suit against seven newspapers, and various publishers, but after a long and bitter process, the courts held that Sipple himself had become news, and that his sexual orientation was part of the story.  Oliver Sipple sank into a downward spiral of depression, alcoholism, obesity and drug abuse. By the time he was found dead with an empty bottle of bourbon in 1989, Oliver Sipple was already a forgotten footnote to ethics and freedom of press. His apartment was littered with press clippings from that fateful day, when he saved a man’s life and subsequently ruined his own.

Oliver W. Sipple Day in San Francisco, Resolution declaring September 22, 2011, as Oliver W. Sipple Day in San Francisco.

No, San Francisco is not gaga over the half-term president. Instead, Sipple has for more than one-third of a century been used as a symbol of homosexual awesomeness for the gay rights movement – even though he wasn’t officially out at the time. Sipple was a decorated U.S. Marine who was wounded by shrapnel during combat in Vietnam. That he risked his life to save his commander in chief, even though he was not on duty, has added to his heft.

Despite the difficult years following his saving of Ford, Sipple’s act of heroism is counted as a milestone in the fight for gay rights, irrespective of whether or not he wanted it that way.

http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2011/09/22/today-is-billy-sipple-day-honoring-gay-ex-marine-who-saved-gerald-fords-life

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