Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Billy Sipple, Heroic Marine & Vietnam Vet

The Gay Ex-marine Who Saved a President's Life

Thirty six years ago this week Sara Jane Moore tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Oliver "Billy" Sipple, a gay former Marine and Vietnam veteran, was standing next to her as she raised a gun and fired it at the president. Sipple grabbed Moore's arm as she made the shot, saving Ford’s life. Her shot missed the president’s head by just six inches.

Afterward, he refused to call himself a hero and said that anyone would have done the same. He lived a deeply closeted life, well beneath the radar in San Francisco's gay community. He was involved with a few gay activist causes, but was careful that his sexuality was not revealed.

That all changed when San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and Harvey Milk disclosed Sipple’s homosexuality in 1975 in an unwitting attempt to show that gay people can do heroic things.

Sipple was a decorated U.S. Marine who was wounded by shrapnel during combat in Vietnam.That he risked his life to save his commander in chief, even though he was not on duty, has added to his legacy. Yesterday, Thursday, September 22, 2011, was celebrated as Billy Sipple Day in San Francisco. For decades Sipple has been honored as a hero – the gay Vietnam vet who saved a president’s life.

At the time, however, the disclosure of Sipple's homosexuality backfired in a big way. Sipple had not yet come out to his family, and his mother disowned him. Sipple filed a $15 million dollar invasion-of-privacy lawsuit (later dismissed) against the newspapers that outed him. His parents were tracked down and ridiculed about their gay son. His brother stated, "There were a lot of times Billy wished he had never saved the president's life, for all the anguish it caused him. He only spoke that way when he was drinking. He said life would have been so much simpler if he hadn't have done it."

Billy’s father and two brothers all worked for GM in Detroit, where they were met with taunts and jeers at the factory. Sipple’s mother was harassed by neighbors, and soon the family became estranged.

Because of the stress brought on by his outing, Sipple began drinking to excess. When he received a delayed note from President Ford thanking Sipple for his “selfless actions,” Billy saw it as an unpleasant reminder of bitterness at being outed and as a too stand-offish form of thanks. His brother said that Billy was upset that there was no invitation to the White House, not even a commendation, just a short note of thanks. The White House had waited for days before publicly thanking Sipple, while staff debated an appropriate response after learning that the heroic Sipple was gay

Sipple was found dead on top of his bed in 1989 with a bottle of bourbon at his side. He had died of pneumonia, but had been dead for 2 weeks when his body was discovered. When his family later collected his effects from his San Francisco residence, they discovered a framed letter from President Ford hanging on the wall. A few days later President Ford sent a note of condolence to the family.

2 comments:

  1. Now that is a story, what a story.

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  2. Everyone assumes that "coming out" is a positive thing, but this is a prime example of the fact that it can lead to tragic results. No media outlet has the right to decide when, or if, one should "be outed". They invaded his privacy and they had no right to do that. So sad!

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