President John F. Kennedy certainly wasn’t the only person to die on November 22, 1963. But, only one other individual associated with his death also lost his life that day, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit. Moreover, Tippit died at the hands of the same madman, Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot the officer on a street in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas less than an hour after Kennedy died.
Born to a farming family in Red River County, Texas on September 18, 1924, Tippit grew up hunting and making do with life in a rural community, often devoid of telephones and electricity. In July of 1944, he joined the U.S. Army, like so many young men of his generation. After being injured in the Rhine Valley in January 1945, he returned to the U.S. to await deployment to the Pacific. But, in 1946, he was discharged and returned to Texas.
On the day after Christmas that same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Marie Frances Gasway. Shortly afterwards, the young couple moved to Dallas to start their life together. They briefly moved back to Red River County, but returned to Dallas in 1952. With 3 children to support, J.D. quickly found his true calling: police work. Being a police officer in Dallas, even in the 1950s, could be dangerous. He almost lost his life at the hands of a demented man in April of 1956.
On November 22, 1963, Tippit returned to his home to have a quick lunch with Marie. Then, word came about the shots in Dealey Plaza and a description of the suspected gunman. Tippit didn’t stand a chance against Oswald’s lunacy.
On November 20, 2012, the city of Dallas honored Tippit’s sacrifice with a historical marker. A few days ago I was surprised to learn that Jacqueline Kennedy had sent a letter to Marie Tippit shortly after the double tragedy, expressing her condolences. At the same time, both women became widows, each with young children, under the most horrific of circumstances. Each man died doing their jobs: Kennedy making a goodwill visit to Texas as president of the United States, and Tippit hunting a killer.
This is for all the law enforcement officials whose lives often end amidst such horror. Their watch may end on a certain day, but their legacies of service and responsibility go on forever.