Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moore Misses Ford, Thanks to Sipple

Sara Jane Moore went down in history on September 22, 1975, as the first woman to fire a shot at a U.S. president -- Gerald Ford, as it happened. She wasn't the first woman to point a loaded gun at him, of course. That infamous distinction belongs to "Squeaky" Fromme, who pointed a gun at President Ford only 17 days earlier, though it misfired when she pulled the trigger.

Moore missed. A bystander named Oliver Sipple had grabbed her arm, and prevented a second shot as well.

It was a good deed that didn't go unpunished. As Lynne Duke wrote in the Washington Post in 2006, "... Oliver 'Billy' Sipple just happened to be standing in the path of history, right next to Sara Jane Moore, the would-be assassin, as she raised a .38 and aimed it at President Gerald R. Ford outside San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel.

"Sipple, a former Marine and Vietnam vet, saw the gun. He grabbed Moore's arm as she fired and saved a president's life. Afterward, he told people anybody would have done the same.

"Only later, after he was outed in the media as a gay man, after his parents back in Detroit were hounded and teased about their gay son -- only then would he realize the personal price to be paid....

"Oliver Sipple flew to Detroit to try to put his parents at ease, to explain 'that he wasn't embarrassing my father in any way, because he wasn't in the same state with him and he was an adult and should be able to live the way he wanted to.'

"The family became estranged... Oliver was not disowned, as some reports of that time said. But the family needed to absorb what had happened.

"Back in San Francisco, Oliver fought a battle on another front, against the media. He filed a $15 million lawsuit against seven newspapers, accusing them of invading his privacy."

After a few years, he lost his case. Oliver Sipple's unfortunate story is, of course, more complicated than these short excepts, involving lingering suffering from his time in Vietnam, a reported decision by Harvey Milk to publicize Sipple's orientation, heavy drinking, bad health and death in 1989. The full article is here, and more on Sipple is here, and on many other web sites.


gspieler said...

Hi Dees: Good info about Sara Jane Moore.

Couple of interesting additions to your post.

Yes, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme did point a gun at Ford, however there was no bullet in the chamber and she never pulled the trigger. Her mission was to get arrested, not to kill Ford. She wanted a trial to get more press for Manson. She had no political agenda for herself.

As for Oliver Sipple, who is a hero and saved Ford's life, grabbed Sara Jane's arm after she fired her first shot and missed Ford's head by six inches.

This information is recorded in the hearing and quoted directly from the Superior Court Judge, Samuel Conti, who is still on the bench in San Francisco.

I wrote a biography on Sara Jane and these events, "Taking Aim At The President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford." Published by Palgrave Macmillan in Jan. 2009.

Dees Stribling said...

Thanks for your input, Geri. I look forward to reading your book sometime.