Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Replica 1963 Dallas police squad car to honor officer slain by Lee Harvey Oswald

This restored replica of a 1963 Ford Galaxie police car will serve as a memorial to J.D. Tippit, the Dallas officer slain by Lee Harvey Oswald, and other officers killed in the line of duty. JEFFREY PORTER/DMN

by STEVE BLOW / Dallas Morning News

As another Nov. 22 approaches, a fresh round of attention is sure to focus on Kennedy, Oswald and Ruby.

And once again, scant attention will be paid to another name – Tippit.

While fallen Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit hasn't exactly been overlooked in assassination history, he has certainly been overshadowed.

But from this year forward, a shiny black memorial will see to it that Officer Tippit is more widely remembered.

It's a memorial in the form of a '63 Ford Galaxie police squad car.

On Friday, the gleaming exact replica of Tippit's car will be escorted to the spot on Patton Avenue in Oak Cliff where the officer confronted Oswald and was killed 46 years ago.

The car and honor escorts will stop there for a time of photos and remembrance. Then the car will be taken on to the grounds of the Dallas Police Association headquarters, where it will become the centerpiece of a permanent memorial to Tippit and all other Dallas officers killed in the line of duty.

The story of this unusual memorial begins in an unusual place – in a junkyard in Arlington.

About five years ago, Dallas police were notified that one of their old patrol cars – possibly Tippit's – was rusting away in the salvage yard.

Well, it wasn't Tippit's car. Amazingly, city records revealed that his car was put back in routine service the very day of his death. It was eventually wrecked and scrapped.

In those first few years after President Kennedy's assassination, Dallas was trying to erase history, not preserve it.

No, the car in the Arlington salvage yard was actually an old movie prop – the vehicle used as Tippit's in the 1977 television movie The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.

It was, however, a real '63 Galaxie 500 just like Tippit drove. And those cars are increasingly rare. So the idea of a replica memorial began to take shape.

The Dallas Police Association took possession of the car, but restoration proved to be a very slow and expensive project. And that's when the Texas Fire Museum stepped in.

The museum on the western edge of Dallas is primarily dedicated to restoring old fire trucks, but its members had the expertise to easily handle a police car. So the project was undertaken.

"There she is," Dallas police Senior Cpl. Rick Janich said, showing me the nearly completed car last week at the Texas Fire Museum. "We've still got to get a whip antenna installed on it."

Compared to the technological marvels that today's squad cars are, "the Tippit car" looks so simple and innocent. Its emergency lights consist of two small round blinkers on the roof.

"The retirees call 'em Mickey Mouse lights," Janich said. "They look like ears."

Scott Simpson, president of the Texas Fire Museum, said, "This has really been a meaningful project for all of us. I think there will be a lot of tears shed the day it rolls out of here."

Assassination researcher Farris Rookstool has served as technical adviser to the car's restoration. "It's 100 percent accurate," he assured.

Rookstool loves this project because artifacts – even replicas – have a power that history books do not. "It transports you back in time. It brings history alive," he said.

Indeed, as I stood beside squad car No. 10, images of 39-year-old Officer Tippit came to mind more vividly than ever before. I can only imagine what it will mean to the officer's widow, Marie Tippit, who will be on hand for Friday's ceremonies.

The car may be a replica, but the emotions are genuine.

Source: Dallas Morning News

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