DALLAS — On Friday, the city will mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination with a ceremony in Dealey Plaza. Among those planning to attend is Marie Tippit, widow of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Tippit was in his patrol car when he came across Oswald, who was traveling on foot in the city’s Oak Cliff neighborhood after Kennedy had been shot. The officer began to question Oswald. He then got out of his patrol car and was gunned down.
Tippit, 39, had been a police officer for 11 years, married for 17 years and had three children. Marie Tippit, now an 85-year-old great-grandmother, still lives in Dallas and spoke with the Los Angeles Times about her memories and why she wanted to attend Friday’s ceremony.
How did you find out your husband was dead?
J.D.’s sister called and asked had I heard from J.D. She wanted me to call the police department and find out if he was OK, because her brother Wayne Tippit in Lubbock had called her because he heard the news on the radio. So I called the police department and found out he had been killed.
When was the last time you saw him?
J.D. had come home for lunch that day, had a sandwich and some fried potatoes, then he took off — everybody was busy that day because the president was coming to town.
Several national figures contacted you after your husband died, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. What did they say?
Robert Kennedy called the following day. He called to express his sympathy toward me, and said if Jack had not come to Dallas, my husband would still be alive, and I agreed. And he said they were both doing their jobs.
Jackie wrote a letter and sent a photo of her family. She said she had lit a flame for Jack and that it would burn forever and it would burn for my husband, too. I thought it was so thoughtful and considerate of her to do that.
You have not expressed anger at Oswald. Why?
Nothing would bring J.D. back. That’s what I really wanted.
Why have you occasionally driven back to visit the site in Oak Cliff where your husband was killed?
It was just part of reliving the events that had happened.
The site is often part of tours related to the assassination. Have you ever seen tourists there?
Sometimes. That’s a good thing. They’re just remembering history.
How would you like your husband to be remembered?
He was a Christian man. He went to church with the family; we prayed together. He was a good police officer. He loved his children, and I always knew that I was loved.
Had he not talked to Oswald as a suspicious person and Oswald shot him, he probably would have gotten away. He was killed just doing his job.
You plan to hold a candlelight vigil on Friday evening with the Dallas Police Assn. at the site where your husband was killed. What do you hope people remember there?
I think the remembrance of him calls attention to all of the officers killed in the line of duty. We should remember those who have given their lives for our city. All of the officers who go to work every day, they face this tragedy that could happen to them. It shows how quickly an officer can lose his life.