Oliver Sipple

Oliver Wellington "Billy" Sipple (November 20, 1941 – February 2, 1989) was a decorated U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran. On September 22, 1975, he grappled with Sara Jane Moore as she fired a pistol at U.S. President Gerald Ford in San Francisco, causing her to miss. The subsequent public revelation that Sipple was gay turned the news story into a cause célèbre for LGBT rights activists, leading Sipple to unsuccessfully sue several publishers for invasion of privacy.

Oliver Sipple
Birth nameOliver Wellington Sipple
BornNovember 20, 1941
Detroit, Michigan
DiedFebruary 2, 1989 (aged 47)
San Francisco, California
Buried
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
RankUSMC-E2.svg PFC

Early life

Oliver Wellington Sipple was born in Detroit, Michigan. He served in the United States Marine Corps and fought in Vietnam. Shrapnel wounds suffered in December 1968 caused him to finish out his tour of duty in a Philadelphia veterans' hospital, from which he was released in March 1970. Sipple, who was closeted in his hometown of Detroit, had met Harvey Milk in New York City and had participated in San Francisco's gay pride parades and gay rights demonstrations.[1][2] Sipple was active in local causes, including the historic political campaigns of openly gay Board of Supervisors candidate Milk. The two were friends and Sipple would also be later described as a "prominent figure" in the gay community who had worked in a gay bar and was active in the Imperial Court System.[3][4]

He lived with a merchant seaman in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment located in San Francisco's Mission District. He later spent six months in San Francisco's VA hospital, and was frequently readmitted into the hospital in 1975, the year he saved Ford's life.

Ford assassination attempt

Sipple was part of a crowd of about 3,000 people who had gathered outside San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel to see President Ford on September 22, 1975. Ford, just emerging from the building, was vulnerable despite heavy security protection. Standing beside Sipple in the crowd, was Sara Jane Moore. She was about 40 feet (12 m) away from President Ford when she fired a single shot at him with a revolver, narrowly missing the President.[5] After realizing she had missed, she raised her arm again, and Sipple dived towards her; he grabbed her arm, possibly saving President Ford's life. Sipple said at the time, "I saw [her gun] pointed out there and I grabbed for it. ... I lunged and grabbed the woman's arm and the gun went off."[5][6] The bullet ricocheted and hit John Ludwig, a 42-year-old taxi driver; he survived.[7] The incident came just three weeks after Lynette Fromme's assassination attempt on Ford. Reporters hounded Sipple who at first did not want his name used, nor his location known.[1]

Aftermath

The police and the Secret Service immediately commended Sipple for his action at the scene, as did the media.[1][8] The national news media portrayed Sipple as a hero, and noted his status as a former Marine.[9]

Though he was known to be homosexual among members of the San Francisco gay community, and had even participated in gay pride events, Sipple's sexual orientation was a secret from his family. He asked the press to keep such personal information off the record, making it clear that neither his mother nor his employer knew he was gay.[10]

The day after the incident, two answering machine messages outed Sipple to San Francisco Chronicle's columnist Herb Caen. One was from Reverend Ray Broshears, the head of a gay activist group called the Lavender Panthers.[11] The other message was from local gay activist Harvey Milk, a friend of Sipple and on whose campaign for city council Sipple had worked.[11] While discussing whether the truth about Sipple's sexuality should be disclosed, Milk told a friend, "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."[10] Milk outed Sipple in order to portray him as a "gay hero" and so to "break the stereotype of homosexuals" being "timid, weak and unheroic figures".[2][3][6] According to Harold Evans, "[T]here was no invitation to the White House for Sipple, not even a commendation. Milk made a fuss about that. Finally, weeks later, Sipple received a brief note of thanks."[12] Three days after the incident, Sipple received a letter from President Ford. It read:[13]

"I want you to know how much I appreciated your selfless actions last Monday. The events were a shock to us all, but you acted quickly and without fear for your own safety. By doing so, you helped to avert danger to me and to others in the crowd. You have my heartfelt appreciation."

Two days after the thwarted assassination attempt, unable to reach Sipple,[11] Caen wrote of Sipple as a gay man, and of a friend of Milk, speculating Ford offered praise "quietly" because of Sipple's sexual orientation. Sipple was besieged by reporters, as was his family. His mother refused to speak to him. Gay liberation groups petitioned local media to give Sipple his due as a gay hero. Caen published the private side of the Marine's story, as did a handful of other publications.[3] Sipple then insisted to reporters that his sexuality was to be kept confidential.[1] Reporters labeled Sipple the "gay ex-Marine", and his mother disparaged and disowned him.[4] Later, when Sipple hid in a friend's apartment to avoid them, the reporters turned to Milk, arguably the most visible voice for the gay community.[1] Of President Ford's letter of thanks to Sipple, Milk suggested that Sipple's sexual orientation was the reason he received only a note, rather than an invitation to the White House.[6]

Sipple sued the Chronicle,[7] filing a $15-million invasion of privacy suit against Caen, seven named newspapers, and a number of unnamed publishers, for publishing the disclosures. The Superior Court in San Francisco dismissed the suit, and Sipple continued his legal battle until May 1984, when a state court of appeals held that Sipple had indeed become news, and that his sexual orientation was part of the story.[6]

Later years and death

According to a 2006 article in The Washington Post, Sipple went through a period of estrangement with his parents, but the family later reconciled with him. Sipple's brother, George, told the newspaper, "[Our parents] accepted it. That was all. They didn't like it, but they still accepted. He was welcomed. Only thing was: Don't bring a lot of your friends."[7] However other sources indicate that Sipple's parents never fully accepted him. His mother, just after news broke of Sipple's sexual orientation, hung up on Sipple saying she never wished to speak to him again. His father is said to have told Sipple's brother to "forget [he had] a brother." Finally, when his mother died, his father did not allow him to attend her funeral.[14]

Oliver W. Sipple headstone
Sipple's headstone at Golden Gate National Cemetery

Sipple's mental and physical health sharply declined over the years. He drank heavily, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, fitted with a pacemaker, and gained weight.[15][16] The incident brought him so much attention that, later in life, while drinking, he would express regret about grabbing Moore's gun. On February 2, 1989, an acquaintance, Wayne Friday, found Sipple dead in his San Francisco apartment, with a bottle of Jack Daniel's next to him and the television still on.[14][15] The San Francisco coroner estimated Sipple had been dead for approximately 10 days.[14] He was 47 years old. Sipple's funeral was attended by about 30 people. President Ford and his wife sent a letter of sympathy to his family and friends. He was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery south of San Francisco.

His $334 per month apartment near San Francisco's Tenderloin District was found with many newspaper clippings of his actions on the fateful September afternoon in 1975, including a framed letter from the White House. A letter addressed to the friends of Oliver Sipple was on display for a short period after his death at the New Belle Saloon:

Mrs. Ford and I express our deepest sympathy in this time of sorrow involving your friend's passing ...

— Former President Gerald Ford, February, 1989

In a 2001 interview with columnist Deb Price, Ford disputed the claim that Sipple was treated differently because of his sexual orientation, saying,[17]

As far as I was concerned, I had done the right thing and the matter was ended. I didn't learn until sometime later – I can't remember when – he was gay. I don't know where anyone got the crazy idea I was prejudiced and wanted to exclude gays.

Legacy

According to Castañeda and Campbell:

The Sipple incident has been referred to, in passing, in a major motion picture and in a prime-time television program. Several law review articles and more than a dozen books and commentary pieces have also mentioned the perplexing ethical dimensions of the case.[18]

A September 2017 episode of the radio program Radiolab covered Sipple's act of foiling the assassination of then President Ford. The episode goes into Sipple's act of heroism, his outing by Harvey Milk and Herb Caen and the news media, and the ethics of his outing in spite of his opposition.[19]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Castañeda, Laura; Shannon B. Campbell (2006). News And Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity. Sage Publications Inc. ISBN 978-1-4129-0999-0. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  2. ^ a b Shilts, Randy (2005). Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-34264-7. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  3. ^ a b c Sadler, Roger L. (2005). Electronic Media Law. Sage Publications Inc. ISBN 978-1-4129-0588-6. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  4. ^ a b Johansson, Warren; William A. Percy (1994). Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Haworth Press. ISBN 978-1-56024-419-6. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  5. ^ a b Radiolab Podcast (2017-09-23), Radiolab - Oliver Sipple [Daryl Lembke, Daniel Luzer, Ken Maley, Sarah Jane Moore, Dan Morain], retrieved 2017-10-03
  6. ^ a b c d Morain, Dan (February 13, 1989). "Sorrow Trailed a Veteran Who Saved a President and Then Was Cast in an Unwanted Spotlight", The Los Angeles Times, p. 1.
  7. ^ a b c Caught in Fate's Trajectory, Along With Gerald Ford, Lynne Duke, The Washington Post, December 30, 2006, p. D01.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 31, 2007. Retrieved May 23, 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) "Oliver Sipple 1941-1989". Accessed May 23, 2007.
  9. ^ "Oliver Sipple 1941–1989". Accessed May 23, 2007. Archived February 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b Shilts, Randy (1982). The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-52330-0 p. 122.
  11. ^ a b c Oliver Sipple - Radiolab especially from around 16:30 to 20:00
  12. ^ Harold Evans, The Imperial Presidency: 1972–1980', Random House, 1998.
  13. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20070831033508/http://www.lambda.net/~maximum/sipple.html
  14. ^ a b c "Oliver Sipple - Radiolab - WNYC Studios". Retrieved September 9, 2018.
  15. ^ a b MORAIN, DAN (February 13, 1989). "Sorrow Trailed a Veteran Who Saved a President and Then Was Cast in an Unwanted Spotlight". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 9, 2018 – via LA Times.
  16. ^ Rangel, Jesus (1989-02-04). "O.W. Sipple, 47, Who Blocked An Attempt To Kill Ford in 1975". The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2018.
  17. ^ "The Frontlines: A President Committed to 'Unity'".
  18. ^ Laura Castañeda, Shannon B. Campbell, "News and Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity", SAGE, 2006, ISBN 1-4129-0999-6, page 66. The movie referenced (chapter notes in the book) is Absence of Malice, and the TV program is an episode from L.A. Law from May 1990.
  19. ^ "Radiolab, Oliver Sipple". WBEZ 91.5 Chicago. September 22, 2017. Archived from the original on September 22, 2017.

External links

1941

1941 (MCMXLI)

was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1941st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 941st year of the 2nd millennium, the 41st year of the 20th century, and the 2nd year of the 1940s decade.

1989 in Michigan

Events from the year 1989 in Michigan.

Gerald Ford

Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. (born Leslie Lynch King Jr.; July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was an American politician who served as the 38th president of the United States from August 1974 to January 1977. Before his accession to the presidency, Ford served as the 40th vice president of the United States from December 1973 to August 1974. Ford is the only person to have served as both vice president and president without being elected to either office by the United States Electoral College.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ford attended the University of Michigan and Yale Law School. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving from 1942 to 1946; he left as a lieutenant commander. Ford began his political career in 1949 as the U.S. representative from Michigan's 5th congressional district. He served in this capacity for 25 years, the final nine of them as the House Minority Leader. Following the resignation of Spiro Agnew, Ford was the first person appointed to the vice presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment. After the resignation of Richard Nixon, Ford immediately assumed the presidency. His 895 day-long presidency is the shortest in U.S. history for any president who did not die in office.

As president, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, which marked a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the collapse of South Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. In one of his most controversial acts, he granted a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. During Ford's presidency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President. In the Republican presidential primary campaign of 1976, Ford defeated former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. He narrowly lost the presidential election to the Democratic challenger, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.

Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. His moderate views on various social issues increasingly put him at odds with conservative members of the party in the 1990s and early 2000s. After experiencing a series of health problems, he died at home on December 26, 2006.

Gerald Ford assassination attempt in San Francisco

On September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford in San Francisco. Moore fired two gunshots at President Ford, which both missed.

Golden Gate National Cemetery

Golden Gate National Cemetery is a United States national cemetery in California, located in the city of San Bruno, 12 miles (20 km) south of San Francisco. Because of the name and location, it is frequently confused with San Francisco National Cemetery, which dates to the 19th century and is in the Presidio of San Francisco, in view of the Golden Gate. Around 1937, San Francisco residents voted to bar the opening of new cemeteries within the city proper and, as a result, the site for the new national cemetery was selected south of the city limits in adjacent San Mateo County.

John Eshleman Wahl

John Eshleman Wahl (November 16, 1933 – April 26, 2010)

Civil Rights attorney; attorney for Harvey Milk.

Wahl was perhaps best known as the lawyer for Harvey Milk until Milk's murder. He was an important early influence on Milk, helping him focus on being heard outside the gay community. According to publisher Thomas E. Horn, as "Harvey was gearing up to run for supervisor, John was trying to keep him straight, so to speak." He also represented Oliver Sipple, who had been "outed" by Milk after saving the life of President Gerald Ford, in Sipple's suit for invasion of privacy against the newspapers who outed him.Wahl's activities as a civil rights attorney were broader than his work with Milk. In 1971, Wahl obtained a landmark ruling from the United States Supreme Court, requiring prisons to provide prisoners with legal research materials for use in Habeas Corpus petitions and appeals. He also established a federal constitutional right for prisoners to have access to clergy of their choice, even when the correctional authority disapproved of the message of the church at issue.

List of Radiolab episodes

Radiolab is a radio program broadcast on public radio stations in the United States produced by WNYC. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, each hour-long show focuses on a topic of a scientific and philosophical nature, through stories, interviews, and thought experiments.

The show's current format is oriented around a roughly biweekly podcast. For a few years, Radiolab featured a full-length, hour-long episode every six weeks (announced by the show's hosts as "Radiolab: The Podcast"), with two shorter pieces (known as "shorts") appearing in-between. Many of these shorter pieces would later be packaged into full-length episodes not released on the show's podcast feed, but available through Radiolab's website. In recent years, Radiolab has de-standardized its podcast format, with full-length episodes being compiled almost entirely from previously-released podcast shorts. The program airs in syndication to over 450 NPR affiliates around the country.Radiolab's first nine seasons (February 2005–April 2011) consisted of five episodes each. Subsequent seasons have contained between nine and ten episodes. Season 15 began airing in January 2017. In 2018 the show’s seasonal and episode format became obscured when online content moved from radiolab.org to wnycstudios.org.

List of United States Marines

The following is a list of people who served in the United States Marine Corps and have gained fame through previous or subsequent endeavors, infamy, or successes. Marines who became notable in the United States Marine Corps and are part of the Marine Corps history and lore are listed and posted in the List of historically notable United States Marines.

List of United States presidential assassination attempts and plots

Assassination attempts and plots on the President of the United States have been numerous, ranging from the early 19th century to the 2010s. More than 30 attempts to kill an incumbent or former president, or a president-elect have been made since the early 19th century. Four sitting presidents have been killed, all of them by gunshot: Abraham Lincoln (1865), James A. Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), and John F. Kennedy (1963). Additionally, two presidents have been injured in attempted assassinations, also by gunshot: Theodore Roosevelt (1912; former president at the time) and Ronald Reagan (1981).

Although the historian James W. Clarke has suggested that most American assassinations were politically motivated actions, carried out by rational men, not all such attacks have been undertaken for political reasons. Some attackers had questionable mental stability, and a few were judged legally insane. Since the vice president has for more than a century been elected from the same political party as the president, the assassination of the president is unlikely to result in major policy changes. This may explain why political groups typically do not make such attacks.

List of people from Michigan

This is a list of notable people from the U.S. state of Michigan. People from Michigan are sometimes referred to as Michiganders, Michiganians, or, more rarely, Michiganites. This list includes people who were born, have lived, or worked in Michigan.

November 20

November 20 is the 324th day of the year (325th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 41 days remaining until the end of the year.

Outing

Outing is the act of disclosing an LGBT person's sexual orientation or gender identity without that person's consent. Outing gives rise to issues of privacy, choice, hypocrisy, and harm in addition to sparking debate on what constitutes common good in efforts to combat homophobia and heterosexism. A publicized outing targets prominent figures in a society, for example well-known politicians, accomplished athletes or popular artists. Opponents to LGBT rights movements as well as activists within LGBT communities have used this type of outing as a controversial political campaign or tactic. In an attempt to pre-empt being outed, an LGBT public figure may decide to come out publicly first, although controlling the conditions under which one's LGBT identity is revealed is only one of numerous motives for coming out.

Presidency of Gerald Ford

The presidency of Gerald Ford began on August 9, 1974, when Gerald Ford became President of the United States upon the resignation of Richard Nixon from office, and ended on January 20, 1977, a period of 895 days. Ford had served as Vice President of the United States since December 6, 1973, following Spiro Agnew's resignation from that office. The 38th United States president, Ford has the distinction of being the first, and to date the only person to serve as president without being elected to either the presidency or the vice presidency. His presidency ended following his defeat in the 1976 presidential election by Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Ford took office in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and in the final stages of the Vietnam War, both of which engendered a new disillusion in American political institutions. Ford's first major act upon taking office was to grant a presidential pardon to Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal, prompting a major backlash to Ford's presidency. He also created a conditional clemency program for Vietnam War draft dodgers. Much of Ford's focus in domestic policy was on the economy, which experienced a recession during his tenure. After initially promoting a tax increase designed to combat inflation, Ford championed a tax cut designed to rejuvenate the economy, and he signed two tax reduction acts into law. The foreign policy of the Ford administration was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the president. Overcoming significant congressional opposition, Ford continued Nixon's détente policies with the Soviet Union.

Ford sought another term in the 1976 presidential election, but was challenged by Ronald Reagan, a leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. After a contentious series of primaries, Ford won his party's nomination at the 1976 Republican National Convention. In the general election, Carter defeated Ford by a narrow margin in the popular and electoral vote. In polls of historians and political scientists, Ford is generally ranked highest for his moral authority and lowest for his vision and ability to set an agenda.

San Francisco in the 1970s

San Francisco in the 1970s was a global hub of culture. It was known worldwide for hippies and radicals. The city was heavily affected by drugs, prostitution and crime. Outcasts and the socially marginalized were attracted by a greater tolerance and acceptance of diverse cultures in the city. It grew as one of world's biggest centres for the LGBT community and LGBT rights. The Daily Mail described flamboyant 1970s San Francisco as being characterized by "hippy street life when buskers, bongo players and impressive bouffants thronged the city by the bay." The rock music known as the San Francisco Sound was performed live and recorded by San Francisco-based rock groups of the mid-1960s to early 1970s. It was associated with the counterculture community in the city at the time.San Francisco was the cradle of the pornography industry in the United States in the 1970s, and led to a dramatic growth of strip clubs, adult movie theaters, "peep show" booths, and sex shops downtown, as well as to the creation of the first feminist advocacy groups for sex workers. Many skyscrapers were built in the city during this period. The city is also associated with West Coast jazz and was one of the major centers of jazz fusion which took off in the 1970s. Many American detective/crime television series were shot in San Francisco in the 1970s and the city became well known as a backdrop to police films such as Dirty Harry (1971).

Sara Jane Moore

Sara Jane Moore (née Kahn; born February 15, 1930) is an American who attempted to assassinate US President Gerald Ford in 1975. She was given a life sentence for the attempted assassination and was released from prison on December 31, 2007, after serving 32 years. Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme are the only two women to have attempted to assassinate an American president; both of their attempts were on Gerald Ford and both took place in California within three weeks of one another.

Sipple (disambiguation)

Sipple (1941–1989) is American soldier and activist Oliver Sipple.

Sipple also may refer to:

Donald Sipple (fl. 1990s), American political worker & subject of expose by Jeff Klein

Sipple, fictional character in Arthur television series

Sipple Avenue, in Fullerton, Baltimore County, Maryland

Sipple Farm, located on Sipple Avenue in Fullerton, Baltimore County, Maryland

Westin St. Francis

The Westin St. Francis, formerly known as St. Francis Hotel, is a luxury hotel located on Powell and Geary Streets on Union Square in San Francisco, California. The two twelve-story south wings of the hotel were built in 1904, and the double-width north wing was completed in 1913, initially as apartments for permanent guests. The 32-story, 120 m (390 ft) tower to the rear completed in 1972 features exterior glass elevators that offer panoramic views of the bay and the square below, making the St. Francis one of the largest hotels in the city, with more than 1,200 rooms and suites.

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