The Other Life Oswald Claimed

The Other Life Oswald Claimed
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The images from Dallas on this date in 1963 fade incrementally with each passing year. Yet, if you are an American of a certain age, they can still be conjured up:

The faces of the Dealey Plaza crowd turning instantly from happy to horrified; the mortally wounded president lurching forward in his convertible; the protective reaction of the first lady in her suddenly blood-spattered pink dress; the rush of the motorcade toward the hospital; the stunned vice president taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One; the shell-shocked attorney general who had now lost both of his older brothers; and the sad realization of an entire nation that two small children back in Washington would never see their father again.

But Jacqueline Kennedy was only one of two women widowed in Dallas that day. Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. were just two of five children left to grow up without a father. Often overlooked when the JFK assassination is commemorated each year is that other bereaved family.

* * *

Marie Tippit, a mother of two sons and a daughter, arose on the morning of November 22, 1963 to make breakfast for her husband, J.D., a patrolman with the Dallas Police Department. J.D. Tippit had grown up on a farm in rural East Texas. In 1944, he answered his nation’s call, joining the U.S. Army. Before he turned 20, J.D. was on his way to earning his wings as a paratrooper in the 17th Airborne Division.

His unit was dropped into fierce fighting in Germany, sustaining heavy casualties. The young soldier refused a Purple Heart for a minor injury, but was awarded a Bronze Star for valor in battle. Like the president he had voted for -- and who would be murdered by the same gunman -- J.D. Tippit was a war hero.

Part of the story is familiar: How, after the president was shot, Tippit was radioed to be on the lookout; how he pulled alongside a suspicious pedestrian who turned out to be Lee Harvey Oswald; how Tippit was shot four times as he got out of his patrol car.

The 39-year-old officer’s death was reported on television before his wife knew about it. Tippit's oldest son, who had stayed home from school that day, heard it on the radio and told his horrified mother. J.D. Tippit’s funeral took place three days later -- by then Oswald was also dead -- and the Beckley Hills Baptist Church was packed to overflowing. J.D.’s death touched a chord in a stricken nation. Thousands of Americans sent letters of condolence. Many sent money for Marie and J.D.’s children.

Among those who were moved were the Kennedys. In their grief, they blamed themselves for the officer’s death -- saying that the president’s visit to Dallas had led to double tragedy. That night, Robert Kennedy phoned the family, and in a poignant touch, Marie Tippit ended up consoling the attorney general: “They got killed doing their jobs,” said Marie. “He was being the president, and J.D. was being the policeman he was supposed to be.”

A couple of days later, a letter arrived from Jackie Kennedy, who offered her help. In reply, Marie told Jackie that she and her husband had always loved the president, and that the only thing she would like was a portrait of the Kennedy family.

Days later, a framed photo of the president, the first lady, and their two children, taken at Hyannis Port, arrived in the mail with an inscription reading:

“For Mrs. J.D. Tippit - with my deepest sympathy - and the knowledge that you and I now share another bond - reminding our children all their lives what brave men their fathers were - With all my wishes for your happiness, Jacqueline Kennedy."

But true happiness proved hard to come by for Marie Tippit. She married twice more, but as she told Michael Granberry of the Dallas Morning News in a rare 2004 interview: “No amount of time can take away the pain I feel for the man I loved. And for anyone who thinks I’m over it, well, they never really knew J.D. Tippit.”

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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