On August 1, 2008, forty-two years after former Marine Charles Whitman killed fourteen people and wounded another thirty-one with a sniper rifle from the top of the 28-story University Main Building, ten law enforcement officers and four civilians were honored in South Austin for the role they played in stopping Whitman’s shooting spree.
Lt. Marion Lee, a Blanco resident from 1998 until his death on October 3, 2001, just a day after he turned 89, was among the officers that will forever be remembered by those who lost loved ones and those who survived the brutal attack
“Much has been made about the perpetrator of this heinous crime and his needless slaughter of innocent people,” Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said at the ceremony. “But we are here today to acknowledge that on a day that displayed the absolute worst in human behavior, many ordinary people; law enforcement personnel, business people, students, and others; showed just the opposite.”
Joyce Knoll, Lt. Lee’s daughter, and her mother, Mrs. Sybil Lee were at the ceremony on Lt. Lee’s behalf.
Lt. Marion Lee was a sharpshooter who was off duty on August 1, 1966 when the call came in. When officers decided that they needed to send up a plane to circle the tower to see if they could get a shot at Whitman, Lt. Lee immediately volunteered.
Civilian Jim Boutwell, who later became a William County sheriff, offered the use of his personal aircraft and removed the door to give Lt. Lee a better shot.
When the two got in the air, the turbulance was too great for Lt. Lee to get off a good shot. Worried that an errant shot would hit a civilian, he choose to hold fire. This created a diversion because Whitman started shooting at the plane, giving Austin police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez access to Whitman’s stronghold and to fatally shoot him.
Once back on the ground, Lt. Lee and Boutwell discovered thirteen bullet holes in the plane, including the seats the pair had occupied during the shoot out.
On Friday, August 1, the Travis County Precinct 3, Building B, located at 8656-B W. Texas 71, was named the Tower Heroes Building at a dedication ceremony with generations of people, officers, and civilians, who were affected in some way by the acts of Charles Whitman. A black and silver historical plaque that lists the ten officers and four civilians who braved Whitman’s heavy gunfire to end the 96 minute massacre that turned the UT campus and surrounding area into a killing field, was unveiled. The plaque reads, “The name of this building honors all who were heroes on August 1, 1966. Many of their names will never be known.”
This is only the second memorial honoring those affected by this tragedy. A plaque was installed on the UT campus in 2006 on a rock at a turtle pond on the north side of the tower. It reads, “The University of Texas at Austin remembers with profound sorrow the tragedy of August 1, 1966. This space is dedicated as the Tower Garden, a memorial to those who died, to those who were wounded, and to the countless other victims who were immeasurably affected by the tragedy.”
The following names are listed on the plaque at the newly named Tower Heroes Building: Austin police officers Billy Paul Speed (killed by Whitman), Phillip Connor, Jerry Day, Lt. Marion Lee, Ramiro Martinez, Houston McCoy, Harold Moe, George Shepard, and Milton Shoquist; William A. “Dub” Cowan, Jr., of the Department of Public Safety; and civilians Jim Boutwell, Allen Crum, Frank Holder, and William Wilcox.
Forty-two years after that fateful day, Ms. Sybil Lee and Joyce Knoll gathered with the remaining honorees, their families and countless others, to honor the unsung heroes of August 1, 1966. Remembered by those who whose lives were forever changed by the violence of Charles Whitman, the Tower Heroes Building is now a public reminder of their bravery.