J.D. Tippit

Good morning, it’s November 22, 2018.

The images from Dallas on this date in 1963 fade just a little bit each year. And for those old enough to remember, those images seemed indelible: the faces of the Dealey Plaza crowd turning instantly from happy to horrified; the mortally wounded president lurching forwards in his convertible; the protective reaction of the first lady in her suddenly blood-spattered pink suit; the rush of the motorcade toward the hospital; the stunned vice president taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One; 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 by gunfire in Dallas that day. Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. were just two of five children left to grow up without a dad. I’ve written about J.D. Tippit and his family before in this space, but I didn’t quite have the story right. In the process of turning these daily essays into a book earlier this year, I dug a little deeper; I’ll have more on the events of November 22, 1963.

J.D. Tippit grew up on a farm in 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 earned a Bronze Star for valor in battle. Like the president he would vote for in 1960 — and who would be killed by the same gunman — J.D. Tippit was a war hero.

His death on November 22, 1963 touched a chord. Thousands of Americans sent letters of condolence to his family. Among those moved were the Kennedys. Despite his own grief, Bobby Kennedy telephoned the Tippit home. In a poignant touch, Marie Tippit ended up consoling the attorney general. “They got killed doing their jobs,” she told Bobby. “He was being president, and J.D. was being the policeman he was supposed to be.”

A letter arrived from Jackie Kennedy offering help. Marie replied that she and J.D. had loved the president: Could she get a portrait from the Kennedy family? Days later, a framed photo arrived 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.”

Even though she remarried twice, happiness proved elusive for Marie Tippit. In a rare interview for the 40th anniversary of the assassination, she told Michael Granberry of the Dallas Morning News that no amount of time could take away the pain she felt for the man she loved.

“And for anyone who thinks she’s ‘over it,'” Granberry wrote, “well, she says, they never really knew J.D. Tippit.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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