In the tumultuous spring of 1968 Bobby Kennedy beckoned the youth of America to join him in his presidential campaign fight.
“These are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election I need your hand and your help.”
Mobilized and energized with the earnestness and enthusiasm of a 13-year-old, I responded.
It was about the hope.
He had a sense of outrage and he spoke from his gut. He seemed to care about the outsider traveling to the Mississippi Delta where Blacks were literally going hungry, to Eastern Kentucky where people had been without jobs for years and to the migrant labor camps of California.
He would heal a divided nation.
Every day after school, my best friend Karen and I rode our Schwinn bicycles to the local Robert Kennedy for President Headquarters where we volunteered. Located in an abandoned suburban storefront, I would spend my afternoons and weekends stuffing envelopes, making phone calls and doing whatever grunt work was needed to help ensure that ensure Bobby would be the 1968 Democratic presidential candidate.
I Wanna Be Bobby’s Girl
Like a star, no last name was needed, even one as magical as Kennedy – he was simply Bobby.
While most 13-year-old girls in 1968 were going ga- ga over John, Paul or George, I only had eyes for Bobby as much a rock star in my mind as any Beatle.
Sequestered in their bedrooms other girls my age were busy clipping photos of the Monkees from Tiger Beat Magazine. I on the other hand, had my nose buried in the NY Times and The Long Island Press scouring the newspapers in search of anything Bobby Kennedy related.
Stuck On You
Wielding the bell-shaped bottle of mucilage glue in one hand, ( just squeeze and spread) and pointy steel school scissors in the other, I carefully cut and pasted the newsprint clippings into a chipboard scrapbook.
After June 4th when Robert Kennedy was assassinated-when all the hopes and dreams ended on the floor of a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles- the scrapbook turned into a memorial.
Still reeling from the horror of the King assassination only 2 months earlier, few will ever forget the shock of that night in June and what it would mean. He was a man who spoke to so many in so many different ways. For 4 full days until his body was lowered to its grave on the green slopes of Arlington near his brother John, the television screens glowed through almost every waking hour, not unlike those 4 days in November 1963.
45 years later my childhood scrapbook remains as a testament to the time. Though the yellowing pages are brittle now memories are still sharp the loss still painful.
Robert Kennedy- A Teen Remembers
The introduction to the scrapbook -” The following pages of this book will be a memorial to Robert F Kennedy. It is the written account taken from newspapers. It will go day by day from June 5 to June8. Robert Kennedy was to me a great man. The reason for the writing of this is because I loved him very much and I want to pay tribute to my “Uncle Bobby”. So now I will proceed to recount the 4 days of the week of June 5th.”
Death came to Robert Kennedy, 42 years old, just as he was celebrating the latest victory of his run for Presidency-
With sickening familiarity there was the same fell scene all over again- the crack of the gun the crumpling body, the screams, the kaleidoscope pandemonium, a voice that cried Get a doctor! Get a doctor! and another that wailed in anguish Jesus Christ, Oh Jesus Christ and then trailed off into sobs.
Seriously injured Bobby ay on the floor as his wife Ethel pleaded with bystanders to stand back seconds after her husband was shot down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Thus in 1968 Bobby Kennedy cut down by a bullet in the brain, became the third great US leader to die at an assassin’s hand in less than 5 years.
A Nation Mourns Again
It was déjà vu all over again
Once again the flags slid down to half-staff. Once again a star lit and star-crossed family came together to mourn its fallen. Once again Air Force One streaked homeward across a continent, its cargo the body of a vital young man of unfilled promise and uncompleted destiny.
Once again the crowds wound past the coffin and once again Washington paused in sadness for a state funeral procession wending towards Arlington.
With a terrible symmetry a lone assassin struck down Robert Kennedy and once again a nation was left to watch and grieve and wonder.
When violence shook the world five years earlier in 1963- a secret service agent jumps on the back of the car seconds after President Kennedy was shot in Dallas as a stunned Mrs. Kennedy is seen crawling on back of car. In 1968 another stunned Mrs Kennedy, Ethel, looks down at her husband as he lies critically injured.
The 2 accused Killers of the Kennedy Brothers (L) Lee Harvey Oswald (R) Sirhan Sirhan
Grieving Kennedy Widows by their husband’s brothers side. In 1963, Robert Kennedy comforts Mrs John F. Kennedy as she receives the American flag that draped her husbands coffin at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1968 Edward Kennedy escorts Mrs. Robert Kennedy into St Patricks for her husbands funeral.
On the following pages is the account of Robert Kennedy’s death
Tuesday June 4th -Wednesday June 5, 1968 -A Night of Triumphs, A Dawn of Tragedy
When Senator Kennedy arrived at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles late on the evening of June 4, 1968 he expected the evening would be a fateful one. Of course he had no idea of the tragedy that was about to strike-instead he anticipated that on that evening he would score an overwhelming victory in the California Democratic primary making him the leading contender for the nomination.
Jubilantly he thanked his campaign supporters gathered in the ballroom celebrating his California triumph. At 12:13 am Kennedy concluded an acknowledgement speech by saying “So my thanks to all of you and its on to Chicago and lets win there.”
The Senator waved a final time and made a victory sign to the crowd.
Robert Kennedy Assassination
Leaving the platform in the ballroom at the Ambassador hotel where he had just thanked a jubilant crowd Kennedy entered the kitchen passageway taking that route as a shortcut.
A series of shots were heard.
There were flashes of gunfire.
Seriously injured, Kennedy fell to the floor, blood pooling from a head wound and puddling on the brim of a Styrofoam Kennedy campaign skimmer. There lay Bobby Kennedy, 42 years old flat on his back his eyes shut, then open, and then starring, his collar loosened a rosary pressed into his hand.
Rushed to Hospital of the Good Samaritan where surgery on his critical head wounds lasted 3 hours. As the long day of waiting passed without word of encouragement anxious crowds outside the hospital awaited news of the condition of the wounded candidate .
At home anxious Americans were glued to their radios for any updates until finally word of Kennedy’s death came hours later by press secretary Frank Mankiewicz.
Los Angeles Rams tackle, Rosie Greer helped subdue the accused assassin within minutes of the shooting .The suspect, a man identified as a Jordanian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan was apprehended quickly. He reportedly had vowed to assassinate Kennedy before the June 5th anniversary of the Israeli Arab War.
A somber President Lyndon Johnson went on national television and declared Sunday to be a national day of mourning for Robert F. Kennedy.
A few hours after the shooting while Kennedy still fought for his life in Los Angeles Good Samaritan Hospital, President Johnson ordered Secret service protection for all presidential candidates.
The body was flown to NYC on Air Force One, where a requiem mass would be held at St Patrick’s Cathedral
Wife and Family at side casket unloaded from presidential jet as his sons carry fathers coffin into St Patrick’s Cathedral.
A Grieving Nation Mourns
The nation was stunned and bewildered.
There was the grief-stricken response of the poor and the humble who wept unashamedly in the streets at the news, who flocked to his bier by the scores of thousands and who saw in his death the loss of their own most compelling and authentic single voice.
At St Patrick’s Cathedral in N.Y. the line of sorrowful mourners stretched for more than a mile, strung out over 6 and 8 and 10 abreast, as some 150,000 citizens filed past the mahogany coffin on the catafalque.
As somber mourners filed through St Patricks, the funeral was brought into our living rooms by live TV coverage of the pomp and pageantry.
It was an incredible assemblage that brought together the President and 4 candidates, princes of the church, the Chief justice, Cabinet secretaries the cream of Congress, civil rights leaders, old New Frontiersmen, movie stars and poets.
Pallbearers: Robert McNamara Rafer Johnson Arthur Goldberg, Stewart Udall, Sidney Poitier, Arthur Schlesinger JR.
It was a high requiem Mass presided over by 2 Cardinals and an Archbishop, with Leonard Bernstein conducting a string ensemble and Andy Williams singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in slow funereal measure.
Yet nothing in the service was so painfully affecting as the moment Ted Kennedy looking suddenly so alone and vulnerable left his place at Ethel’s side and stood before the flag draped coffin to speak for the family.
His voice caught once early on as he called the roll of Kennedy dead. But he steeled himself through a reading of Bobby’s own words.
Then his voice turned thick and tremulous. “My brother,” he said “need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”
As he said so many times…”Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say why not?”
The Final Train Ride
The hearse left St Patricks making its way down Fifth Avenue past tens of thousands of waving and weeping mourners, some flinging roses in their path, as the cortege crawled downtown to Penn Station to the train that would carry him to Washington.
Uncounted thousands of mourners came out to stand along the route of the funeral train as it wound its way along the 227 miles of track between NY and Washington’s Union Station, the greatest such demonstration the nation had seen since Franklin Roosevelt’s body was borne from Warm Springs, Georgia to Washington 23 years ago.
Mourners by the thousands stood in the baking sun for hours at every station as the 21 car train carrying RFK traveled jostling for a glimpse of Ethel and Jackie and the flag draped coffin as they passed in the observation car the great throngs slowed the journey, crowd singing the “Battle Hymn” and “We Shall Overcome” and night had fallen once it reached Washington DC.
On its way to Arlington Cemetery, the caravan rode past places Kennedy had graced The Senate Office Building, the Dept. of Justice and it circled and stopped at the Lincoln Memorial while a choir sang the “Battle Hymn” for Bobby one last time.
Laid to rest near JFK where he had been buried 4 and half years ago.
One Grieves a husband one a son- Widow Mrs Robert Kennedy seen on TV during Mass, his mother on television screen.