The Info List - Oliver Sipple

Oliver Wellington "Billy" Sipple (November 20, 1941 – February 2, 1989) was a decorated U.S. Marine and Vietnam War
Vietnam War
veteran. On September 22, 1975, he actively attempted to stop Sara Jane Moore
Sara Jane Moore
as she fired a pistol at U.S. President Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford
in San Francisco, causing her to miss.[1] 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.


1 Early life 2 Ford assassination attempt 3 Aftermath 4 Later years and death 5 Legacy 6 See also 7 References 8 External links

Early life[edit] Oliver Wellington Sipple was born in Detroit, Michigan. He served in the United States
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
Harvey Milk
in New York City
New York City
and had participated in San Francisco's gay pride parades and gay rights demonstrations.[2][3] 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.[4][5] 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[edit] Sipple was part of a crowd of about 3,000 people who had gathered outside San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel
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.[6] After realizing she had missed, she raised her arm again, and Sipple dove towards her and 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."[6][7] The bullet ricocheted and hit John Ludwig, a 42-year-old taxi driver. Ludwig survived.[8] 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.[2] Aftermath[edit] The police and the Secret Service immediately commended Sipple for his action at the scene, as did the media.[2][9] The national news media portrayed Sipple as a hero, and noted his status as a former Marine.[10] 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.[11] The day after the incident, two answering machine messages outed Sipple to San Francisco
San Francisco
Chronicle's columnist Herb Caen. One was from Reverend Ray Broshears, the head of a gay activist group called the Lavender Panthers.[12] The other message was from local gay activist Harvey Milk, a friend of Sipple and on whose campaign for city council Sipple had worked.[12] 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."[11] Milk outed Sipple in order to portray him as a "gay hero" and so to "break the stereotype of homosexuals" of being "timid, weak and unheroic figures".[3][4][7] According to Harold Evans, "[T]here was no invitation to the White House
White House
for Sipple, not even a commendation. Milk made a fuss about that. Finally, weeks later, Sipple received a brief note of thanks."[13] Two days after the thwarted assassination attempt, unable to reach Sipple,[12] 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.[4] Sipple then insisted to reporters that his sexuality was to be kept confidential.[2] Reporters labeled Sipple the "gay ex-Marine", and his mother disparaged and disowned him.[5] 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.[2] 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.[7] Sipple sued the Chronicle for invasion of privacy.[8] Sipple filed 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
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.[7] Later years and death[edit] 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."[8] 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 passed away, his father did not allow him to attend her funeral.[14]

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 towards grabbing Moore's gun. On February 2, 1989, an acquaintance, Wayne Friday, found Sipple dead in his San Francisco
San Francisco
apartment, with a bottle of Jack Daniel's
Jack Daniel's
next to him and the television still on.[14][15] The San Francisco
San Francisco
coroner estimated Sipple had been dead for approximately 10 days.[14] Sipple 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
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. His most prized possession was the framed letter from the White House. A letter addressed to the friends of Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
was on display for a short period after his death at one of his favorite hangouts, 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, "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."[17] Legacy[edit] 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
Herb Caen
and the news media, and the ethics of his outing in spite of his opposition.[19] See also[edit]

Biography portal United States
United States
Marine Corps portal LGBT

List of United States
United States
presidential assassination attempts and plots


^ Ancestry.com has 'Wellington' for his middle name, sourced to 'California, Death Index, 1940–1997' ^ a b c d e Castañeda, Laura; Shannon B. Campbell (2006). News And Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity. Sage Publications Inc; ISBN 1-4129-0999-6. Retrieved 2008-02-19.  ^ a b Shilts, Randy (2005). Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-34264-0. Retrieved 2008-02-19.  ^ a b c Sadler, Roger L. (2005). Electronic Media Law. Sage Publications Inc. ISBN 1-4129-0588-5. Retrieved 2008-02-19.  ^ a b Johansson, Warren; William A. Percy (1994). Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Haworth Press. ISBN 1-56024-419-4. Retrieved 2008-02-19.  ^ a b Radiolab
Podcast (2017-09-23), Radiolab
- Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
[Daryl Lembke, Daniel Luzer, Ken Maley, Sarah Jane Moore, Dan Morain], retrieved 2017-10-03  ^ 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.[dead link] ^ a b c Caught in Fate's Trajectory, Along With Gerald Ford, Lynne Duke, The Washington Post, December 30, 2006, p. D01. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 31, 2007. Retrieved May 23, 2007.  " Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
1941-1989". Accessed May 23, 2007. ^ " Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
1941–1989". Accessed May 23, 2007. Archived February 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. ^ 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. ^ a b c Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
- Radiolab
especially from around 16:30 to 20:00 ^ Harold Evans, The Imperial Presidency: 1972–1980', Random House, 1998. ^ a b c http://www.radiolab.org/story/oliver-sipple/ ^ a b http://articles.latimes.com/1989-02-13/news/vw-1568_1_gay-big-deal-jerry-ford ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1989/02/04/obituaries/ow-sipple-47-who-blocked-an-attempt-to-kill-ford-in-1975.html?mcubz=1 ^ [1] The original article used to be at: [2] ^ 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
L.A. Law
from May 1990. ^ "Radiolab, Oliver Sipple". WBEZ
91.5 Chicago. September 22, 2017. Archived from the original on September 22, 2017. 

External links[edit]

American Century article Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
Saves President Ford's Life Video: Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford
– Assassination Attempts (02) on YouTube Video: Media Ethics Oliver Sipple
Oliver Sipple
on YouTube

v t e

Harvey Milk


George W. Hewlett High School USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) Bache & Company Castro Street Fair Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club Castro Camera 1977 Board of Supervisors election (District 5)


Moscone–Milk assassinations Dan White Twinkie defense White Night riots

Media and legacy

The Mayor of Castro Street
The Mayor of Castro Street
(1982) The Times of Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk
(1984) Milk (2008) Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk
Day Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk
Foundation Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk
High School USNS Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk

Related individuals

Dianne Feinstein Cleve Jones Jim Jones Anne Kronenberg Stuart Milk George Moscone Nicole Murray-Ramirez Daniel Nicoletta Dick Pabich Frank M. Robinson Craig Rodwell Oliver Sipple Scott Smith

See also

Castro District, San Francisco Firsts in LGBT