The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

December 23, 2010
Before 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' there was Oliver Sipple, U.S. Marine

A generation before "Don't ask, Don't tell" entered our lexicon, there were military men like Oliver "Billy" Sipple, who simply hid.

Sipple, the focus of this column, was the former U.S. Marine who may have saved President Gerald Ford by grabbing would be assassin, Sarah Jane Moore, outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

A moment by moment diary of how Ford spent that day, Sept. 22, 1975, makes no mention of Sipple. Moore, who was released from prison in 2008, was not named.

However, you can see several other familiar names, including Dianne Feinstein, who a few years later played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Here is a link to the Ford diary of that day.

Sipple died on about Jan. 19, 1989. At the time, I worked as a reporter in San Francisco and spent several days piecing together his final days, writing this article. A month later, Ford sent a touching letter that was placed in a frame on the wall at one of Sipple's favorite bars, as told in this article.

Wayne Friday was an investigator for the San Francisco District attorney who discovered that Sipple, his friend, had died alone in his apartment in January 1989.

I reached him the other day to talk about Sipple and the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell' policy which barred openly homosexual men and women from serving in the military.

"He was more embarrassed about a gay Marine than anything. In those days, you weren't allowed in if you were gay," Friday said.

Friday thinks about Sipple every time he drives south of San Francisco past Golden Gate National Cemetery where Sipple is buried.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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