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'Forever Grateful' to Ex-Marine, Ford Says

March 08, 1989|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — In a letter that is being displayed at a gay bar here, former President Gerald Ford has acknowledged the death of Oliver Sipple, saying he will be "forever grateful" for the former Marine's action in averting a 1975 assassination attempt.

A similar letter was sent to Sipple's family in Detroit.

"Everybody appreciates it (the letter)," said Clint Trow, bartender at the New Bell Saloon, one of the bars that Sipple used to visit daily. "Everyone has asked to look at it."

Sipple died in January at age 47 in his apartment on the edge of the Tenderloin. His body was not discovered until two weeks after his death.

"I strongly regretted the problems that developed for him following this incident," said Ford's letter, which was dated Feb. 14 and addressed, "To the friends of Oliver Sipple." "It saddened me to learn the circumstances of his death.

'Deepest Sympathy'

"Mrs. Ford and I express our deepest sympathy in this time of sorrow involving your friend's passing," the letter concluded.

Sipple was at Union Square in September, 1975, when Sara Jane Moore pointed a revolver at Ford. The former Marine, who lived on disability pay because of psychological problems, knocked the gun away as Moore aimed and fired.

Two days later, Sipple's friends revealed to reporters that he had been active in gay social and political circles. Sipple, whose family was unaware of his sexual orientation, claimed his privacy had been invaded and sued several news organizations.

Sipple lost the suit, but said in testimony that the attention worsened his psychological problems, caused a rift with his parents and led him to drink more heavily.

Several of Sipple's friends were critical of Ford for failing to respond in early February when news of Sipple's death was reported. But in the letter, Ford said he had been traveling when Sipple's death was reported.

'A Class Act'

"It was a class act on Gerald Ford's part," said Allen White, a journalist here who helped arrange that the letter be sent and displayed at the New Bell.

Penny Circle, Ford's chief of staff at his Rancho Mirage office, said the letter would remain at the bar temporarily "so all of his friends can see it," and would be permanently displayed at Glide Memorial Church here.

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