Robert Kennedy Remembered

Kennedy For President 1968 brochure suburban teens

The author and her friend Karen campaign for Bobby Kennedy in 1968

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.”

Robert Kennedy Campaign Youth Drive pamphlet 1968

He spoke to the youth of America and explained why their help was vital. “Young Americans made this years election a test of faith. They have taken the deepest beliefs of our country at face value: individual freedom commitment to social justice willingness to examine old ideas and choose new ones. This faith and the energy behind it has turned this election into a confrontation of issues and ideas. Robert Kennedy shares that faith and that energy,”

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.

Campaign Volunteer

Kennedy For President Bumper Sticker 1968

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.

Robert Kennedy Nagazine Cover 1968

“How Bobby Plans to Win” June 1, 1968 Saturday Evening Post Cover
“If we come roaring out of California, nothing will stop us in Chicago”

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

Robert Kennedy Tribute

Robert Kennedy

Text Kennedy memorial

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.”

RFK Assasination 1968 Newspaper Photos

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.

Kennedy Brothers newspaper photo

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.

Newspaper photos of 2 Kennedy Assasinations

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.

Kennedy Assasins

The 2 accused Killers of the Kennedy Brothers (L) Lee Harvey Oswald (R) Sirhan Sirhan

Jackie Kennedy Ethel Kennedy at funerals of husbands

  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

Robert Kennedy Victory Speech California 1968

 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.

Kennedy Wins

RFK Assasination 1968 Newspaper Photos

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.

RFK Assasination 1968 Newspaper Photos

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.

Newspaper photos of RFKs assasin Sirhan Sirhan

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.

Lyndon Johnson RFK Assasination 1968

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.

Kennedy SWScan09962

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.

Newspaper reporting RFK Funeral 1968

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.

Newspaper reporting RFK Funeral 1968

 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.

RObert Kennedy Funeral Mass Ted Kennedy speech text

Saturday Funeral

 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?”

Newspaper reporting RFK Funeral and Burial 1968

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.

Ethel Kennedy and Rose Kennedy 1968 at RFKs funeral

One Grieves a husband one a son- Widow Mrs Robert Kennedy seen on TV during Mass, his mother on television screen.

Robert F Kennedy Funeral Card

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20 comments

  1. Hershel

    It is poignant and sad that you had to be deprived of your childhood Hero like that.
    It is also wonderful that you kept all your memories in journals and photos to share with the rest of us

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  2. Your scrapbook brought back a flood of memories… I too had scrapbooks, on Bobby and Jack. I was only 8 when Jack died. My child’s mind couldn’t make sense of it. I still can’t. Long Island seems a world away now, in 1968 we moved to Canada. For me, the world changed in 1963. I often think “how would it have been?’, if they had lived. Thank you for sharing.

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    • I’m glad my scrapbook stirred some memories. The years from 1963 to 1968 were so tumultuous that even at a young age it left indelible imprints. The “What if’s” are the eternal unanswerable questions that would chase Americans for the next several decades.

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  3. An emotional archive. I remember feeling confused and angry, but also fearful and for some reason – alone.
    Thanks for posting.

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    • I think these sort of tragic events bring up a range of feelings, coming on the heels of the King assassination certainly contributed to the fears, confusion, etc. I’m glad to share these memories with others now, when perhaps I too may have felt alone at the time.

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  4. Pingback: Robert Kennedy Remembered Pt II | Envisioning The American Dream

  5. Thank you. He meant a lot to me, too. I had to give the valedictorian speech at my high school graduation soon after his death. My talk was inspired by him.

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  6. Tim Keene

    Thank you so much Sally for sharing your memories. I too was 13 years old in 1968. I was living on an Air Force Base with my parents and brothers in North Carolina at that time. The Viet Nam war was raging. We had just 2 months before lost Martin Luther King. It seems like the death of President Kennedy in 1963 opened Pandora’s box and began the end of the “age of innocence” in America. Robert F. Kennedy was a true hero to me as well. I am still extremely haunted to this day about how different and better it would have been for the whole world had he lived. I will never forget that horrific year of 1968.

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    • Thanks Tim for sharing your story. It’s amazing how many still feel that loss today, 45 years later. I think there was a profound loss of hope, that has never been recovered. Many who lived during those tumultuous times can’t help but wonder “what if?”

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  7. Ria Aeschlimann-Lembregts

    Thank you so much for sharing this. From a 62-year old woman who remembers and who to this day is saddened by this horrible act. Thank you.

    Like

    • I’m glad my post could be evocative for you. It was indeed a very sad time, and its hard to explain to those who weren’t around at that time, what a profound loss and sense of sadness that lingers still. thank you for sharing

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  8. Pingback: 50 Years of Gun Violence- R.I.P. | Envisioning The American Dream

  9. Michael

    I was 8 years old in 1968 and remember this event to the day. I too was confused and lost in 1968 wondering where our country was going-riots, war, assassinations and all. Bobby was a champion of the poor and underprivileged and fought for them. He was an unique leader and we have not had one ever since. It was Bobby that got me interested in politics. Today our politics is broken and I feel apathy. The once proud democratic party is no better than the republicans .. all about taking care of the rich and destroying the middle class -leaders only caring about money and power. Our leaders today have no conviction… Well at least Bobby was a person of fairness, and cared about people and had conviction; and I feel lucky that I lived during his time thought I was a very young. Like you I followed his 1968 campaign. And if I was of age, would have worked on his NY Campaign. I never felt that way about any other candidate since. Thank you Sally for sharing your inner feelings and the history via scrapbook. Brings back memories.

    God bless Bobby!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Michael

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    • It is remarkable how powerful feelings were stirred around Robert Kennedy. That kind of passion and momentum for a candidate has rarely been seen since. Though clearly a member of the 1%, his level of compassion and empathy for those less fortunate is certainly something we don’t see today.

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  10. Jerry

    I was 14…it was a very sad, tragic event that you instantly knew would be embedded in your memory bank forever.

    RFK appealed most strongly to those who were horrified over how America had spun out of control under LBJ. By electing RFK, there was a sense that the previous 5 years was just a bad dream, and the interrupted Kennedy presidency would resume. That greatly contributed to the massive/rock star crowds he attracted. He easily attracted more media coverage than anyone on the planet during his final 3 months.

    On a hot August night in 1977, on a visit to LA, I happened to have been in the vicinity of the Ambassador. It was around 10-11PM when I walked in, and what I found was chilling. I opened a door to a ballroom, and instantly knew where I was due to the unique ceiling. The very platform and podium Kennedy used appeared untouched from 9 years earlier. I knew where the kitchen pantry would be in relation to the ballroom. After a brief internal debate, I walked in. It was dimly lit, quiet, not a soul in sight, and I stood exactly where the mayhem occurred. Like the ballroom, it looked completely frozen in time from 1968.

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    • That’s a powerful memory from your visit to the Ambassador. Its such an iconic image, so identified with that horrible event, that I can imagine the experience being very visceral. For those to young to remember Robert Kennedy, its hard to explain the huge impact he had, especially on the youth.In todays climate of mostly lackluster candidates, his inspirational legend only shines brighter

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  11. Michael Wynne

    I was only 6 but remember it all so vividly. I could not comprehend why someone would want to kill a man dedicated to peace and justice. I know that my thoughts were shaped by childhood innocence, yet I still feel the sense of grief for myself and our country that we were deprived of RFKs leadership. ( of course RFKs loss to his family was the greatest loss of all). I grew-up in a politically moderate home, but my parents were Kennedy supporters. I would describe myself today as Libertarian. I don’t know what type of political figure RFK had become, but all that I’ve read and seen is that he’d have been much better than Nixon. I must say that if RFK has morphed into a Teddy type liberal, he’d have lost me. But I attribute some of the crazy leftism of the Kennedy’s we’ve seen the last 48 years attributable to RFKs assassination. Thank you for your contribution

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