Everyone is familiar with the overarching details of the JFK and Lincoln assassinations, and those with an interest in history are likely familiar with the death of William McKinley and the attempted shooting of Ronald Reagan, but few remember the attempted Gerald Ford assassination. Even fewer remember the hero who saved him on September 22, 1975: Oliver Sipple. The story of Oliver Sipple and Gerald Ford is a happy one for Ford, who had his life saved, and a terrible one for Sipple, who had his life ruined.
Rather than being recognized as a former Marine who did his country proud on the homefront after serving overseas, most of the media coverage about Sipple focused on his sexuality, which he tried to keep under wraps until then. Instead of being hailed as an American hero who had selflessly protected the President of the United States, Sipple was outed as a homosexual by the media, which had the unfortunate side effect of destroying Sipple’s relationship with his family and ultimately his life.
He Suffered From PTSD From His Time In Vietnam
Prior to saving President Gerald Ford's life, Sipple served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. While he was getting treatment for wounds in Vietnam (he was wounded by shrapnel during combat), his hospital was bombed.
He returned to the United States in December 1968 as a decorated vet with a Purple Heart, PTSD, and a 100% disability rating. Back in San Francisco, he would spend every Fourth of July in San Francisco's VA Hospital in a quiet room, as the bang of fireworks was very triggering for him.
Sipple's Life Went Downhill From The Moment He Saved President Gerald Ford
The end of Oliver Sipple’s story is not a happy one. Broken by the shock of his public outing and the destruction of his relationship with his family, Sipple’s physical and mental health began to deteriorate. He spent the remaining 14 years of his life depressed and possibly suffering from schizophrenia, which he self-medicated through heavy alcoholism.
Sipple died alone in his apartment at the age of 47 with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. His body wasn’t discovered for almost two weeks. Predictably, President Gerald Ford skipped the funeral and opted to send a letter of condolence.
The Media Mostly Ignored Sipple's History As A Marine War Hero
Once the media caught wind of Oliver Sipple’s sexuality, they ignored a major part of the story: the fact that Sipple was already an American hero long before he saved President Gerald Ford’s life. Sipple was a member of the United States Marine Corps and served in Vietnam, where he suffered shrapnel wounds in 1968. After the war, he spent time in San Francisco’s VA hospital.
A former Marine remembering his training and employing it to save the President should have been an interesting enough story to run with, but the papers couldn’t resist the "scandalous" nature of Sipple’s private life.
Sipple's Story Is Used As A Case Study For Journalism Students
The ethical debate about whether or not it was okay for Sipple to be forcefully outed by the media still rages among both seasoned and student journalists alike. In Christopher Meyers's book Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach, Meyers writes that some journalists argue "that once crimes, accidents, natural disasters, and heroic acts are reported, the individuals involved are considered 'public figures,' so that further privacy-invading coverage of their lives is justified."
However, Meyers argues the term "public figure," cannot simply be thrust upon someone, as it was with Sipple: "Individuals become 'public figures' when they choose to define themselves as such because they seek or have attained public office or desire public attention for some other personal or professional reason and the media agrees that they deserve public attention." Sipple, in contrast, was just a former Marine doing his best to protect the leader of his country.