The son of a cotton farmer, J.D. Tippit was raised in the Red River Valley area in eastern Texas. This peaceful existence was interrupted by World War II, when he joined the army and volunteered for Airborne.
Tippit earned a purple heart and a bronze star in heavy combat with the vaunted 17th Airborne Division, whose motto was “Thunder from Heaven.” He saw heavy combat in the Battle of the Bulge and in March of 1945 parachuted across the Rhine into Germany to help deliver the death blow to the Third Reich.
After the war, J.D. married the love of his life, Marie Frances Gasway. Their union would eventually be blessed with three children. In 1952, Tippit gave up cotton farming for good to join the Dallas Police Department, and it is here where we examine in greater detail the story of his heroic life.
On Officer Tippit’s first night on the job he was assigned to work a local fair. Officer Tippit made his “first arrest” when he spotted his brother with friends enjoying the fair. Tippit — who was a notorious practical joker — came up behind his brother, swept him to the ground and handcuffed him.
He quickly whisked him away telling the crowd that they could go about their business because there was “nothing to see here, folks.”
As Tippit reached his squad, he and his brother shared a good laugh and the young officer released him.
Tippit immediately loved police work, and in spite of such a light-hearted start he took it very seriously.
Close Calls in 1956
On April 28, 1956, Tippit and his partner Officer Daniel Smith responded to a call of domestic violence in progress. As they arrived on scene the abused wife ran screaming from the house, while the woman’s abuser slammed the front door in the officers’ faces.
Undeterred, Tippit and Smith crashed through the door, but were immediately set upon by the “demented” husband, who was armed with an ice pick. Before the wild man could be subdued Smith suffered a deep wound to his shoulder, while Officer Tippit was struck in the stomach and the knee.
Officer Tippit underwent surgery to remove the tip of the ice pick which had broken off and become embedded in his knee cap.
On September 2, a fully recovered Tippit and his partner Dale Hankins were doing a “routine” walk through at the Club 80 Bar in Dallas. Tippet spotted a man in one of the booths, who looked like the face on a wanted bulletin the department had received from Denver.
The two officers contacted the man and asked him to step outside with them. The man initially feigned cooperation, but suddenly produced a .25 caliber semi-automatic and shoved it into Tippit’s face.
The suspect squeezed the trigger, but had left the weapon on safe.
Tippit and his partner both drew and fired. Together they put seven rounds into the suspect, killing him before he could recover from his mental misstep.
Tippit later confided to a fellow officer that the muzzle of that small caliber weapon “looked like a stove pipe!”
A Last Kiss Goodbye
On November 22, 1963 the entire city of Dallas was buzzing about the visit of President John F. Kennedy. Tippit checked in at 0730 hours at the Oak Hill substation to begin his patrol shift. He was a little disappointed that he would not see President Kennedy — his assigned patrol area was five miles from downtown Dallas, where the President would be making his rounds.
Officer Tippit’s shift was initially uneventful. He was even able to stop home for lunch. His wife Marie made him a tuna sandwich and fried potatoes. After that lunch Tippit kissed Marie goodbye and went back out on patrol.
Neither of them realized this would be their last kiss shared in this world.
President Kennedy Has Been Shot
At 1230 hours President Kennedy was shot. Tippit — who was far from the chaos — was unable to help in any way other than to diligently begin a search of his area after a description of the assassin was broadcast.
At 1314 hours, Tippit spotted a nervous young man near 10th and Patton in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas who matched the description of the suspect. Officer Tippit pulled alongside to take a closer look.
After talking to him briefly at the window of the patrol car the man was directed to the front of the squad and Tippit exited to continue his investigation.
As Officer Tippit approached, the man suddenly drew a .38 caliber revolver and shot Tippit three times in the chest at close range. After Tippit fell, the suspect — Lee Harvey Oswald — placed the muzzle of his weapon next to the wounded officer’s temple and fired.
Oswald fled, and a citizen called in the assault by using Tippit’s radio.
Minutes later, Dallas officers converged on a theatre the killer had ducked into after seeing the approach of officers.
Oswald was apprehended after a fierce struggle and arrested for the murder of Officer Tippit.
Tippit’s instincts were proven to be correct. Lee Harvey Oswald was, indeed, the man who shot President John F. Kennedy.
More Than a Footnote
This fallen hero was much more than a footnote in history. Throughout his life J. D. Tippet repeatedly as well as voluntarily put himself in harm’s way. As a soldier he parachuted into Nazi Germany to help end the war. As a police officer he initiated the action that not only cost him his life, but also ultimately led to the apprehension of a presidential assassin.
Officer J.D. Tippit was a perfect example of the “Greatest Generation” — a generation of Americans whose epic stories of victory, valor, and sacrifice are destined to echo throughout history, eternally undiminished like “Thunder from Heaven.”