Thursday, August 03, 2006

Oliver Sipple Saves President Ford's Life

In the Fall of 1975, there were several assassination attempts on President Ford. One of these was thwarted by Oliver "Bill" Sipple. He was a former marine and high school football star.

An article from the Random House series The American Century noted, "Sipple moved toward the front of the crowd to see his president. He saw him all right-as well as a gray-haired woman by his side, pulling a revolver out of her blue raincoat. Sipple grabbed her arm. Her shot missed the President by a few feet. Sipple wrestled her to the ground, and prevented her from getting off a second shot by shoving his hand into the firing mechanism."

Sipple was a hero. However, there was a problem. He had a secret. He did not want his family to learn he was gay and he shied away from publicity. Despite this, he was outed by a local paper. His father never spoke to him again.

According to Wikipedia, Sipple later said "My sexual orientation has nothing at all to do with saving the President's life, just as the color of my eyes or my race has nothing to do with what happened in front of the St. Francis Hotel."

Some claimed that Ford never publicly thanked Sipple for his role in saving his life. In 2001, Ford denied this in an interview with the Detroit News. He was quoted as saying, "I came out of the St. Francis Hotel and was about to get into the limo. The shot was fired (by Sara Jane Moore). The Secret Service got me to Air Force One quickly. I later learned ... Bill Sipple hit her hand and, as a consequence, the shot went above my head. ... I wrote him a note thanking him. ... 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."

Sipple did not fare well after saving Ford's life. After being outed, he spiraled into depression and became an alcoholic. He also became extremely obese. He was found dead in February 1989. Only 30 people attended his funeral. It was a sad end for someone who had truly performed a heroic act for the American nation.


FKAB said...

Hi, this is a really good article. I'm currently in the planning stage of a manuscript about the life of Oliver Sipple, and I was wondering if you could offer some additional information. If you could point me to some of your sources, that would be great also. I'm very interested in learning as much as I can about Oliver Sipple, as the information on the net is very limited. His story is very sad, and I feel that it needs to be told at further length. It's a real shame what happened to him in the years after saving the President's life, and I want to pay tribute to him.

Michael said...

"I'm currently in the planning stage of a manuscript about the life of Oliver Sipple, and I was wondering if you could offer some additional information. If you could point me to some of your sources, that would be great also."

Great! I think a book on Oliver Sipple is a great idea. He was a hero and deserves recognition.

My sources are cited in this article. They include the Wikipedia article and Random House series The American Century article.

Good luck.

Bill C said...

I had the great pleasure of getting to know Bill Sipple. When I met him, of course it was at the bar, and I had no idea of what he had done. I found that he was always uncomfortable with those events. At the time I was only 19, and I marveled at his selfless acts. He'd invariably change the subject. At the time, he lived closer to Polk St. I saw four or five letters of appreciation from various Presidents that he had hanging on his wall. I find it ironic that it's mentioned that those letters were his pride and joy. It seemed to me that he never enjoyed and in fact avoided any link to that fatefaul day. Some people wish for celebrity, Bill wanted to the fullest to avoid it. I hope that he has the peace now, that he wanted.

Rich Budway said...

I was with Bill in 1971, we were both in probably the 1st. PTSD clinic for any veteran. I was there 3 months, Bill left shortly before me. He was like a big brother to me as he was 9 years my elder.In the hospital we'd just shoot the breeze, figure ways to sneak out of the ward.Once we had a "pass" to leave for the day. We got as far as the 1st. bar outside the gate. Tried my first tequilla that day and never again since. LOLHe talked often of San Francisco, my grandmother lived across the bay in Oakland. When we were in the hospital, I don't remember why he was in an upstate NY VA Hosp. I think about Billy often, it was a shock today when I "googled" his name and found he had passed. I hope he got the peace he deserved, and longed for.