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The Public Hero Who Saved President Ford from a Bullet Was Rewarded With Humiliation And His Life Publicly Destroyed

By Andrew Alpin, 22 March

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Oliver Sipple was the man credited with saving the life of President Gerald Ford on September 22, `1975. Had Sipple not sprung into action on that ill-fated day, the assassin a troubled woman would have certainly made her second bullet sure of its target. But! Instead of Sipple gaining recognition for his deed, he somehow became infamous and his reputation and life almost publicly destroyed. Here are the reasons why.

1Who was Oliver Sipple?

Oliver Sipple 33 was a former US Marine. He was part of the crowd gathered in San Francisco on September 22, 1975, when President Gerald Ford visited the city. Little did he know that the day was about to change his life and the woman next to him was to be instrumental in it. She was Sara Jane Moore, who was almost successful in assassinating Ford had it not been for Sipple. This was to be the second failed attempt on Ford after the Lynette Fromme of the Manson Family tried doing so 17 days earlier. 

Who was Oliver Sipple

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2Sipple saves the president

Moore a troubled housewife had a revolver with her. When she fired, her first shot narrowly missed Ford. When she aimed for her second shot, Sipple sprang instantaneously. He grabbed Moore's arm and deflected her aim. The bullet hit a taxi driver instead who fortunately survived. At the moment, Sipple was a hero but that was not to last. 

Sipple saves the president

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3Sipple’s orientation was leaked to the press by Harvey Milk

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The famous gay activist of the time was Harvey Milk. It was this man who leaked the fact of Sipple’s orientation to the press. Both men knew each other and while Milk was contesting the election as San Francisco's city supervisor, Sipple was one of his campaign volunteers. So much for confidantes. Milk thought by doing so, he would boost his advocacy of gay rights. He leaked the information that Sipple was gay to Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle without Sipple’s consent. 

Harvey Milk

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4Sipple gained media and public attention for the wrong reasons

Media scrutiny then went on to ensure the focus wasn’t on Sipple’s heroic deed but rather his personal preferences. Although Sipple was an active member for gay activism in San Francisco, back home in Detroit where he was raised, his personal life was a secret. The media ensured that wasn’t a secret anymore. The headlines then began focusing on how a gay hero saved President Ford. Which today may not have been a focal point of negativity but in those days it was different. Society was more rigid in their acceptance of the LGBT community. Even families disowned their own family members who were gay. 

Sipple gained media and public attention

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5His mother disowned him

Sipple’s mother disowned him when she read about him in the media. He was constantly outed after that. In Detroit, his family and friends were shocked. His family became the local subject of gossip where his fathers and brothers were even harassed and jeered at work. Sipple was to become an estranged member of the family. 

His mother disowned him

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6President Ford thanked him in a letter but didn’t invite him to the white house

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President Ford thanked Sipple with a letter and that was to be an extremely impersonal touch for the man who had saved his life. But, then Ford was being politically correct at the time. Ford denied that he had shunned Sipple because of his orientation and Sipple didn’t really mind. He kept the letter carefully. 

President Ford thanked Sipple

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7Harvey Milk thought he would get attention for Sipple

The other reason why Harvey Milk leaked the information was that he felt he would get acknowledgment for Sipple’s act of heroism. Stories from the San Francisco Chronicle spoke about how Sipple was a victim of prejudice. The only problem was that this was done without Sipple’s consent. Below is the woman who tried to assassinate President Ford. Sarah Jane Moore. 

Sarah Jane Moore

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8Sipple slipped into alcoholism

The negative publicity made Sipple sink into depression. In spite of support from his brother, he took to drinking, becoming an alcoholic. Their father had told his brother George to forget he even had a brother, but George was always proud of his brother. Oliver soon started regretting that he had ever saved Ford. 

Sipple slipped into alcoholism

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9Sipple sued the media for $15 million

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Although Sipple went on to sue the media, his case was dismissed. This led to the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers to come out publicly against Sipple. Sipple claimed damages from almost 50 newspapers for embarrassment, humiliation and mental anguish. The case went on till 1984 but was son dismissed by the Supreme Court which declared that his orientation was already known to people earlier so he could not hold the media responsible. 

Sipple sued the media

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10He wasn’t allowed to attend his mother’s funeral

Oliver Sipple was disowned by his family and never wanted to speak to him again. When his mother passed away, his father did not allow him to attend his mother's funeral.

Oliver Sipple was disowned by his family

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11He would suffer from PTSD in Vietnam

Sipple served as a Marine in Vietnam and was even wounded twice once in combat and a second time when his hospital in which he was receiving treatment was bombed. He was a decorated Marine being awarded a Purple Heart for his service. But after that Sipple suffered from PTSD with a disability that was rated 100% medically. He was known for spending every Fourth of July in an isolated ward in San Francisco hospital because he could not stand the loud noise of the fireworks. 

Sipple served as a Marine in Vietnam

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12Sipple’s life and public image destroyed

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From the moment he saved President Gerald Ford, Sipple’s life was to go downhill. His public outing was a rude shock for him that led to the severing of ties with his family. He deteriorated in mental and physical health and remained a depressed alcoholic for the next 14 years even suffering potential schizophrenia. 

Sipple’s life and public image destroyed

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13He died alone and dejected

Sipple died alone and dejected at the young age of 47. He was found with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. NO one even suspected he was dead where his body was found after 2 weeks. President Ford only sent a letter of condolence preferring to skip his funeral. That’s humanity for you. 

Oliver Sipple

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