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Craddock: Martyred lawman’s place in history

J.D. Tippit was a Northeast Texas country boy who avoided the limelight and only wanted to provide for his family.

But in 1963 he became a major character in one of the most dramatic events in American history. On the unforgettable weekend of Nov. 22-24, the killings of U.S President John F. Kennedy, Tippit and Lee Harvey Oswald rocked the nation.

Tippit’s ancestors first moved in Northeast Texas in the 1870s. The family homesteaded near the Red River County town of Clarksville.

J.D. was born Sept. 18, 1924, not far from the birthplace of 32nd U.S. Vice President John Nance Garner.

J.D. (the initials didn’t stand for anything) was born to Edgar and Lizzie Mae Tippit. The youngster, first of five siblings, loved the simple life growing up in Northeast Texas.

In 1939 the family moved to another farm several miles south of Clarksville, the county seat. The Tippits were poor and maintaining the farm was hard work. J.D. spent plenty of time picking cotton and plowing fields behind a mule.

Paratrooper

But he loved fishing, hunting and exploring the Red River County woods and prairies. He was known for his honesty, horsemanship and sense of humor.

Tippit attended rural Fulbright High School through the 10th grade.

In 1944, at age 20, Tippit enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a paratrooper in the 17th Airborne Division. In early 1945, near the end of World War II, he was sent to France. He saw combat in the airborne crossing of Germany’s Rhine River, earning a Bronze Star.

After the war he returned to Texas and the family farm. In December 1946 he married Marie Gasaway at Clarksville. The couple moved to Dallas, but by 1949 the family had relocated to Lone Star, where Tippit raised cattle. The first of three children was born in 1950.

The Tippits returned to Dallas where J.D. tried several jobs. It wasn’t until the summer of 1952 that Tippit finally found his calling. He joined the Dallas Police Department as a rookie patrolman.

Tippit was assigned to the Oak Cliff substation. “He was very quiet,” said a fellow officer.

The year 1956 proved to be a dangerous one for Tippit. In April the police officer was stabbed with an ice pick while making an arrest. In September a man in a club aimed a gun at Tippit and another officer. They drew their revolvers and killed the assailant.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Tippit was patrolling Oak Cliff. He ate a quick lunch at home but soon returned to his squad car, telling his wife he “might be needed” because President Kennedy was in town.

Less than an hour after JFK’s assassination in downtown Dallas, Tippit spotted a man walking briskly down an Oak Cliff sidewalk. The man seemed to fit the description of the suspect wanted for the president’s shooting.

Tippit called the man over, then got out and began to walk around the front of the squad car. The man, later identified as Lee Harvey Oswald, pulled out a gun and fired several times, killing the 39-year-old officer.

‘Ideal officer’

Kennedy, Oswald and Tippit all were buried Nov. 25, the latter in Dallas’ Laurel Land Memorial Park. At Tippit’s service, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry said, “He was an ideal officer. He was a man of very fine morals. All our officers had the highest respect for him.”

On Nov. 17, 2001, a Texas State Historical Marker was dedicated to Tippit in Red River County. The marker sits on Highway 37, a few miles southwest of Clarksville.

It was Nov. 20, 2012, when a state historical marker was finally dedicated to Tippit’s memory at Tenth and Patton streets in Oak Cliff.

That marker sits at the intersection where the Northeast Texan lost his life and became a part of American history.

— Van “APB” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column appears Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net .

Today's Bible verse

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops”

Proverbs 3:9

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