Sipple, the son of a Detroit autoworker, had been discharged from the Marines in 1970 and made his way to San Francisco in search of acceptance, like so many others. On Sept. 22, 1975, Sipple was on the sidewalk outside the St. Francis Hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of another Michigan native, Gerald Ford. Sipple looked up as a woman named Sara Jane Moore pulled a revolver from her purse. Without a second thought, Sipple lunged at her.
Feinstein, then the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, didn't see the assassination attempt but had been Ford's host at the St. Francis. "It was a gay man who grabbed her gun, which deflected the shot aimed at our president," Feinstein said on Saturday [December 18, 2010], the day that the Senate voted to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that had forced countless military men and women to remain closeted.
Perhaps the prejudice and fears that led to the policy fed the demons that haunted Sipple. Sipple surely suffered. Sipple's brother, George, told me that the Marines at one point denied Sipple was ever in the service. There were, after all, no gay Marines.
Two days after the assassination attempt, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen disclosed Sipple's sexual orientation, and quoted Milk and another gay man "who claim to be among Sipple's close friends described themselves as 'proud - maybe this will help break the stereotype.' Sipple had been out of the closet in San Francisco. But like so many others who sought freedom by settling in the city, Sipple had not told his family back in Michigan. His parents were shocked at the news. His father never got over it, he later said.
Wayne Friday, then an investigator for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, stopped by one of Sipple's Polk Street hangouts in February 1989. The bartender asked that Friday check in on Sipple, who hadn't been around. Friday found Sipple dead on his bed, half-gallon bottles of bourbon and 7-Up nearby. He had been there two weeks. The framed note was on a wall.
"I want you to know how much I appreciated your selfless actions last Monday. The events were a shock to us all, but you acted quickly and without fear for your own safety. By doing so, you helped to avert danger to me and to others in the crowd. You have my heartfelt appreciation."
Gerald Ford signed it.