DALLAS — He was Lee Harvey Oswald's second victim that day in 1963, and as Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, many paused this week to reflect on the life, and sacrifice, of J.D. Tippit.
Tippit was a 39-year-old Dallas police officer when he was gunned down by Oswald as the assassin fled in the city's Oak Cliff neighborhood.
Dallas police gathered with Tippit’s friends and family to honor him at a candlelight vigil at the Dallas Police Assn. late Friday. When the officer’s widow, Marie Tippit, entered the room, the crowd of several hundred stood.
Tippit, 85, arrived carrying a bouquet of red roses. She had attended the city’s official commemoration in Dealey Plaza earlier in the day, an event attended by thousands. Although the evening crowd was much smaller, she sat beaming at the front of the room beside a portrait of her late husband.
She talked about what a good father Tippit had been to their three children. Now a great-grandmother, she said she appreciates the community’s support and prayers for her family. Another ceremony honoring Tippit was held Friday at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.
"It just blessed me to see you all here and to know that you know about our family and all we've been through," she told the crowd to applause.
Dallas Police Chaplain Bill White reminded those assembled that the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination was also an anniversary for Tippit. After Tippit stopped Oswald to question him, Oswald shot the officer and hid in a movie theater where he was later captured.
“As the world has come to Dallas, there must be a message that goes from this place of courage and of duty,” he said. “J.D. Tippit gave all that he had, as did the president.”
The association’s president, Ron Pinkston, talked about Tippit’s record, and how police in the room were wearing special badges inscribed with the fallen officer’s badge number, 848, and “Patrolman J. D. Tippit, EOW 11/22/63.” EOW stands for “end of watch.”
“Tonight we light a candle to remember both President Kennedy and J.D. Tippit,” Pinkston said.
Many approached Marie Tippit after the ceremony, including several officers, some long retired.
Dallas Police Detective Elmer Boyd, 86, was Tippit’s partner for a time.
“He was really the hero,” Boyd said.
He remembered Tippit’s dry sense of humor, and his confidence which came from a bit more experience — 11 years on the police force.
“He was a good partner. I never had to worry about my backside when I was with him,” Boyd said.
On the day of the assassination, Boyd was assigned to the Trade Mart where Kennedy’s motorcade was headed, while Tippit was working alone.
After the shootings, Boyd was assigned to escort Oswald to lineups and interrogation sessions with police and the Secret Service. The first day he had off was the day Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.
Boyd said Friday’s vigil brought back memories. He said only two out of 20 homicide detectives from that time are still alive to tell the story.
But after the candles were extinguished Friday, the lights turned back on and the crowd prepared to leave, the association’s first vice president, Frederick Frasier, made Tippit’s widow a promise: “The memory of that day will never be forgotten, and neither will our fallen officer.”