by ROY APPLETON / Dallas Morning News
Marie Tippit occasionally drives to the intersection of 10th Street and Patton Avenue. She’s not exactly sure why.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m punishing myself,” she said, after a recent stop at the crossing. “You go back and remember the one you loved. …”
Her husband, Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, was cruising the Oak Cliff neighborhood about 45 minutes after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on Nov. 22, 1963.
He stopped a man walking along Patton. They talked through a passenger window of the patrol car. Then, as Tippit got out and walked toward the front of the vehicle, the man fired three rounds from a .38-caliber revolver. He shot the officer a fourth time as he lay in the street.
Within the hour, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested inside the Texas Theatre, six blocks away. He would be charged with murdering Tippit and the president.
Forty-nine years later — last November — the slain officer and that terrible day were recalled at the unveiling of a state historical marker at 10th and Patton, on the grounds of Adamson High School.
“Officer Tippit did what hundreds of Dallas police officers do and have done every day since this tragedy,” Dallas school board member Eric Cowan said at the ceremony.
“He did his job, and as a result he gave the ultimate sacrifice, and we as a community should — now, thanks to this marker — never forget what happened on that day.”
The marker’s inscription concludes: “Officer Tippit’s actions and subsequent murder at this site are remembered for setting into motion a series of events that led directly to Oswald’s arrest.”
Flowers every year
Those actions and events will be recalled again on Nov. 22, during a candlelight vigil near the marker. Marie Tippit will be among the speakers at the Dallas Police Association’s 6 p.m. gathering.
Before the vigil, she and her three children — Allan, Brenda and Curtis Tippit — will take flowers to their father’s grave at Laurel Land Memorial Park, as they do every year. And Marie Tippit plans to attend the public commemoration at Dealey Plaza: The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy.
Her memory of a husband, father and police officer includes his telephone call that Friday morning half a century ago.
He was coming home for lunch, a surprising break in routine. With the president arriving, the policeman had to get back to the streets. So his wife fried potatoes to accompany a tuna sandwich and sent him on his way.
“I felt it was a real blessing that I got to see him one more time,” she said. “He kissed me ’bye, said thanks for lunch, gave me a hug and left.”
Her memory honors his physical strength and blue eyes, his sense of humor and dedication to his job.
“He liked his work. He thought he was doing something to help everybody else.”
Her memory recalls his moonlighting at Austin’s Barbecue to help his family. It brings back their picnics, their visits to the park, the football games with the kids in front of the Tippits’ pinkish brick home in south Oak Cliff.
“We had such a normal life, and suddenly it’s gone,” she said.
Heard on the radio
Allan, the oldest child, remembers when the crushing news arrived. He was home that day from eighth grade, faking a stomachache to avoid an exam, he says. Listening to KLIF radio, he heard the announcer report the shooting of a police officer named J.D. Tippit.
“I thought, there aren’t many people with that name. So I went and got mother,” Allan said. “She listened for a minute and freaked out and called the substation. I wasn’t sure until some officers came knocking on the door.”
While friends flocked to the house, Allan Tippit fled to the woods behind his home and climbed a tree.
He lived for years in a thicket of sorts, embracing drugs and compiling a criminal record along the way. “I was an angry person about losing my dad.”
Now 63, Allan remembers his father’s face and love, “the things we did together and how he liked being with us. He was a man you absorbed good values from: You don’t steal. You don’t lie. You don’t cheat."
And I learned about God. He would talk about the Bible, read verses,” said Allan, who lives with his mother and one of his three sons in Oak Cliff while battling lung cancer. “I was fortunate to have had him as long as I did.”
His sister Brenda, a Garland resident, declined an interview request.
Their younger brother Curtis, living in East Texas, said he has few memories of his father, as he was only 5 when J.D. Tippit died.
“I think about him often and what could have been,” said Curtis, who keeps a photograph of his father on a dresser. He named one of his eight children J.D.
“I would have loved to have heard stories from World War II,” he said. “I heard he was always helping people and that he was a Christian man. That kind of example would have been great to live around.”
His mother, now a spry 85, has been an anchor through the years, Curtis said. She reclaimed the Tippit name after her third marriage ended in divorce.
“She has been a servant to the family and tries to keep everybody going,” he said.
Having a revival
Marie Gasway and J.D. Tippit began dating in Red River County in northeast Texas after he returned home from the Army and World War II with a Bronze Star.
“I invited him to go to church. We were having a revival,” she recalled. “He showed up and asked me, could he take me home. Six months later we got married.”
They settled in Dallas in early 1947, with Tippit landing jobs at Dearborn Stove Co. and Sears before an unsuccessful run at raising cattle back in northeast Texas. A friend encouraged him to apply with the Dallas Police Department. He joined the force on July 28, 1952, at a salary of $250 a month.
During his 11 years behind Badge 848, he worked primarily in Oak Cliff, patrolling, responding to calls, helping keep the peace, and earning, at last, $490 a month.
He was bitten while roping a dog that had attacked a child. A suicidal man crashed a fist into his face. A call to a domestic disturbance left him with ice-pick wounds to his stomach and knee.
There was the citation for bravery after he helped disarm a man wanted in another state. There was the gunman he and a fellow officer fatally shot in a bar after the man’s pistol misfired.
And there was the man who caught his eye, walking near 10th and Patton.
His widow received calls of sympathy from President Lyndon B. Johnson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s brother. She exchanged letters with Jacqueline Kennedy. And in the year after Tippit’s murder, donations to the family exceeded $643,000, supplementing his $5,000 city life insurance policy and a $232 monthly pension.
Tippit was honored posthumously with the Medal of Valor from the National Police Hall of Fame. Local tributes included the Police Medal of Honor, the Police Cross and the Citizens Traffic Commission Award of Heroism.
In 2001, he was memorialized with a state historical marker near Clarksville, Texas, and the farm where he grew up. His name is one of 80 etched at the Dallas police memorial downtown, which honors officers killed in the line of duty.
A replica of his last patrol car, No. 10, a black 1963 Ford Galaxy, was presented at a ceremony four years ago and remains with the Dallas Police Association. Dallas officers wear special badges this month commemorating his service.
Marie Tippit says she appreciates the recognition her slain husband has received. She says musings that he was part of an assassination plot, or wasn’t killed by Oswald, are “not worth talking about.”
Now and then she retrieves her husband’s gun, badge and police identification card from safekeeping for family viewing.
For public viewing, there’s the marker at 10th and Patton. The landmark helps burnish Tippit’s place in history, even if it was 49 years coming.
“You just have to do things as you can,” Marie said.
“I’m proud we have it. It will be a good thing for history, to remember what happened here.
“It’s a reminder of the risks that every officer takes on the job every day.”
Source: The Dallas Morning News