History well remembers the events and names surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in Dallas, but if it had not been for the brave and observant actions of one East Texas native, the outcome would have been entirely different.
The name of J.D. Tippit, unknown by many, holds the status of being a hometown hero today in Red River County. Two historical plaques -- one in Red River County and one in Dallas -- tells his story.
On November 22, 1963, the day JFK's fateful motorcade journeyed through the Dallas streets, Tippit was on routine patrol as a Dallas police officer in the neighborhood of Oak Cliff. Within an hour of the president's assassination, his chance encounter with the alleged assassin cost him his life -- but also helped narrow the search that eventually led to the imminent arrest of the key suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Tippit was born in rural Red River County in 1924. He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946. He earned a Bronze Star for his part in the pivotal airborne attack of Germany's Rhine River in 1945. It would not be the last time he was recognized for his bravery.
The East Texas native married his high school sweetheart in 1946. They lived in Lone Star, Texas, where he attempted to farm and raise cattle.
In January 1950, Tippit enrolled in a Veterans Administration vocational training school at Bogata, Texas. He left the school in June 1952, and after facing several setbacks as a farmer and rancher, he decided to become a police officer and got on the force in Dallas. He received two commendations for bravery on the Dallas force in the 11 years before his untimely death.
While on patrol on November 22, he heard the police radio transmission about the president being shot in downtown Dallas. It included a preliminary description of the suspect.
While driving his patrol car to a central location of further instructions, he happened upon someone who seemed to fit the description of the suspect. The suspect was a slender white male in his early 30s and about 5-foot, 10-inches tall, and weighing approximately 165 pounds. Oswald was indeed a slender white male, but he was 24 years old, measured 5-foot, 9-inches tall and weighed 150.
Tippit pulled up next to a man on the street that resembled the suspect. It was Oswald. The assailant walked up to the police car and exchanged a few words with the officer. When Tippit exited his vehicle, Oswald pulled out a revolver and shot him four times.
Tippit had eyed Oswald just 45 minutes after the president was shot. However, he was pronounced dead by the same suspect just 10 minutes later.
Oswald stayed at the scene, shrouded by a crowd that had gathered as the ambulance arrived to transport Tippit to the hospital. Soon, he entered nearby Texas Theatre, but the movie theater manager called the police because Oswald had not bought a ticket to enter. Oswald was arrested in the theater minutes later.
The Warren Report, the result of the Congressional investigation into the assassination, included testimony of 12 witnesses who observed various aspects of Tippit's deadly encounter with Oswald.
Some 12 hours later, Oswald had been charged with both the assassination of Kennedy and the murder of Officer Tippit. Oswald claimed he was innocent of both. More than 24 hours later still, Oswald was gunned down by nightclub owner Jack Ruby in the Dallas police garage while being transported to the Dallas County jail.
Among those expressing their condolences to Tippit's widow were Attorney General Robert Kennedy, JFK's brother, and newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson. JFK's wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, wrote a letter expressing sorrow for the bond they shared. Abraham Zapruder -- a Dallas businessman whose personal film of the motorcade captured the JFK assassination for posterity -- gave $25,000 to the widow after selling the historic film to Life magazine.
Tippit's funeral happened on the same day -- November 25 -- as both JFK and Oswald. In January 1964, Tippit was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor from the American Police Hall of Fame, and he also received the Police Medal of Honor, the Police Cross, and the Citizens Traffic Commission Award of Heroism.