‘There were many heroes that day’


Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Con­tin­ued from A Con­tact Ri­cardo Gan­dara at 445-3632.

day. It was team­work.

“And, I do not want what I did that day to de­fine me,” he said.

But that dark day in Austin his­tory fol­lowed McCoy all his life. On Aug. 1, 1966, the 25-year-old Whit­man fa­tally shot 14 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Austin po­lice of­fi­cer Billy Speed, and wounded 32 oth­ers un­til McCoy and fel­low of­fi­cer Ramiro Martinez both fired shots that stopped him. McCoy’s blast from a 12-gauge shot­gun hit Whit­man in the face, and, ac­cord­ing to the au­topsy, the fa­tal wounds were to Whit­man’s head and heart.

A bul­let from Martinez’s .38-cal­iber hand­gun also hit Whit­man. Martinez also grabbed McCoy’s shot­gun and shot Whit­man one more time as he lay on the ground.

The fran­tic mo­ments on the ob­ser­va­tion deck and who did what and when have been re­hashed, re­searched and an­a­lyzed by his­tory buffs and fam­ily. It’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted that it was McCoy’s shot­gun blast that felled Whit­man. But Martinez shot him, too, and ini­tially got the credit un­til about 1970, when then-Po­lice Chief Bob Miles first be­gan to pub­licly talk about McCoy’s role in stop­ping Whit­man. By then, McCoy had re­signed from the de­part­ment and was a civil­ian flight in­struc­tor in Del Rio for the U.S. Air Force.

From his bed in Me­nard Manor in 2011, McCoy re­counted what he re­mem­bered: “I got him. But it really doesn’t mat­ter whether I got him or Martinez did. Martinez is a good man, and he was the first po­lice of­fi­cer on the deck to con­front the sniper. There were many heroes that day, po­lice of­fi­cers and civil­ians.”

Funeral ser­vices are pend­ing but will be held some­time in early Jan­uary, fam­ily mem­bers said. A por­tion of McCoy’s ashes will be put into the San Saba River, near where he was born and raised. The rest will be re­leased with a helium bal­loon while the poem “High Flight” by John Gille­spie Magee Jr. — a trib­ute to fly­ing — will be read.

Wayne Vin­cent of the Austin Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion said sev­eral cur­rent and re­tired of­fi­cers will at­tend.

Austin Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo said in a state­ment Thurs­day: “I was priv­i­leged to have met and spent time with Hous­ton and his won­der­ful fam­ily the past few years and will miss him dearly. Please take a moment to pray for Hous­ton and his fam­ily.”

McCoy’s chil­dren — Monika, Kristofer, Ste­fan and Philip McCoy — re­mem­bered a fa­ther who raised them in the coun­try with­out TV.

“We have fond child­hood mem­o­ries as a fam­ily of read­ing books, hunt­ing and fish­ing for our food, ca­noe­ing, kayak­ing, swim­ming, ar­row­head hunt­ing, metal de­tect­ing, rat­tlesnake hunt­ing, ex­plor­ing, mak­ing re­mote-con­trol air­planes, work­ing on the scout camp, rais­ing an­i­mals, hav­ing goat bar­be­cues, fish fries and mak­ing veni­son jerky, stuffed sausage and hot tamales,” said Monika McCoy. “Pop taught us gun safety at an early age and how to drive any­thing with wheels as soon as we could see over the steer­ing wheel.

“The loss of our fa­ther is enor­mous,” she said. “His in­tel­lect and love for teach­ing his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will be greatly missed.”

Monika McCoy has been a driv­ing force in pre­serv­ing her fa­ther’s legacy. She gath­ered copies of ev­ery­thing writ­ten about him, in­clud­ing the po­lice file with Whit­man’s au­topsy re­sults. She col­lected hun­dreds of fam­ily pho­tos from the time that Hous­ton McCoy was a child to his high school days in Me­nard, when he was all-district in foot­ball and bas­ket­ball and was voted “Best All Around Boy.” She ar­ranged re­unions with the of­fi­cers in­volved in the Tower shoot­ing.

Former Austin po­lice of­fi­cers who were at the UT Tower shoot­ing re­mem­bered McCoy as a man who took his job se­ri­ously. He gained their trust.

Jerry Day called McCoy a true Texas hero. “He was an ex­tra­or­di­nary man, quiet and a great po­lice of­fi­cer,” Day said. In the mid-1960s when Day was rel­a­tively new on the force, he worked the same shift as McCoy. “If you were on a po­lice call with Hous­ton,” Day said, “you knew he was there for you.”

Friend and former Austin of­fi­cer Mil­ton Sho­quist said that McCoy was a hum­ble man. “All of us who put on a gun and badge ev­ery day and go to work, look in the mir­ror and won­der if we will have what it takes to en­dure and sur­vive a life or death sit­u­a­tion. Hous­ton did not have to ask him­self that ques­tion af­ter Aug. 1, 1966.

“He has the re­spect of all whom he worked with. No po­lice of­fi­cer could ask for any­thing more,” Sho­quist said.

Harold Moe, who also re­sponded to the Tower shoot­ing, called McCoy a great friend: “He was the kind of per­son that would do any­thing for a friend, just a really good man.”

McCoy fell on tough times af­ter he left the Austin Po­lice De­part­ment. He was di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress syn­drome and bat­tled al­co­holism.

Sho­quist said he was aware of McCoy’s trou­bles: “Like most of us, Hous­ton bat­tled some de­mons dur­ing his life, but I be­lieve, in the end, he won the war.

“It is hard to sep­a­rate the man from the po­lice of­fi­cer due to the no­to­ri­ety sur­round­ing the 1966 tragedy,” Sho­quist said. “Hous­ton was a mod­est, un­pre­ten­tious man. ... His word was his bond and a hand­shake was as good as a writ­ten con­tract. He was loved by his wife, chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and his friends for who he was, not for what hap­pened on the UT Tower that day.”

McCoy was asked in an ear­lier in­ter­view how he wished to be re­mem­bered. He an­swered, “That he’s just a good old boy.”


Austin po­lice of­fi­cer Hous­ton McCoy (third from left) meets with re­porters a day af­ter brav­ing sniper fire by Charles Whit­man, who killed 14 and wounded 32 oth­ers. With him (from left) are Univer­sity Co-op em­ployee Allen Crum and Austin po­lice of­fi­cers Ramiro Martinez and Jerry Day.

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