Michael Hamar

A Gay Marine Who Saved a President

Filed By Michael Hamar | December 28, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: assassination, Diane Feinstein, gays in the military, Marines, President Gerald Ford, San Francisco, Sara Jane Moore

Given the efforts of organizations like Concerned Women for America who want American history to remain sanitized to omit any references to the contributions of LGBT Americans, it is important that our true contributions be highlighted.

Fortunately, a opinion column in the Sacramento Bee does just this in its look at Marine veteran of Vietnam, Billy Sipple, who tackled a woman named Sara Jane Moore as she pulled a revolver from her purse to fire at President Gerald Ford back in 1975.

Despite what our enemies and religious zealots would have others believe about us, LGBT Americans are just as patriotic and have contributed at least as much to the nation as have heterosexuals and this reality terrifies the Christianists because it cuts them off at the knees in their quest to stigmatize us. Here are highlights from the Bee's column:

Sipple, the son of a Detroit autoworker, had been discharged from the Marines in 1970 and made his way to San Francisco in search of acceptance, like so many others. On Sept. 22, 1975, Sipple was on the sidewalk outside the St. Francis Hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of another Michigan native, Gerald Ford. Sipple looked up as a woman named Sara Jane Moore pulled a revolver from her purse. Without a second thought, Sipple lunged at her.

Feinstein, then the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, didn't see the assassination attempt but had been Ford's host at the St. Francis. "It was a gay man who grabbed her gun, which deflected the shot aimed at our president," Feinstein said on Saturday [December 18, 2010], the day that the Senate voted to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that had forced countless military men and women to remain closeted.

Perhaps the prejudice and fears that led to the policy fed the demons that haunted Sipple. Sipple surely suffered. Sipple's brother, George, told me that the Marines at one point denied Sipple was ever in the service. There were, after all, no gay Marines.

Two days after the assassination attempt, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen disclosed Sipple's sexual orientation, and quoted Milk and another gay man "who claim to be among Sipple's close friends described themselves as 'proud - maybe this will help break the stereotype.' Sipple had been out of the closet in San Francisco. But like so many others who sought freedom by settling in the city, Sipple had not told his family back in Michigan. His parents were shocked at the news. His father never got over it, he later said.

Wayne Friday, then an investigator for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, stopped by one of Sipple's Polk Street hangouts in February 1989. The bartender asked that Friday check in on Sipple, who hadn't been around. Friday found Sipple dead on his bed, half-gallon bottles of bourbon and 7-Up nearby. He had been there two weeks. The framed note was on a wall.

"Dear Mr.Sipple,

"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."

Gerald Ford signed it.

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Dan Morain the Senior Editor at the Sacramento Bee wrote this touching and thoughtful article. He can be reached - [email protected]