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Remembering RFK

June 6, 2008 | 11:14 am

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Image courtesy of KTLA-TV
Robert F. Kennedy, Ambassador Hotel, June 5, 1968.

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Beginning June 1, the Daily Mirror will follow Robert F. Kennedy in the final days of his campaign for the American presidency, from hope and triumph at the polls to tragedy in a cramped corridor in a kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.

We want you to share your recollections of this day that changed the course of U.S. history. Please share your comments below (all posts must be approved before they are published) or send them to me by e-mail.


      
  • It was a year of nightmares, starting on March 1, when a dear friend, Gerry Markwith, was killed in Vietnam. By June, when Emily Thompson Smith came running down the corridor of our dorm at the University of Washington, yelling that Kennedy had been shot, my first reaction was, what else can they do to us?

    Most of us spent the rest of the night in tears.

    A lot of people get nostalgic for their college years. Somehow, I just can’t.

Pamela Sowers


  • Five-thirty a.m. the alarm woke me. That was the day that I was supposed to go fishing with my dad and his two brothers, the last chance that I’d get to see them before entering boot camp. Then the radio news came up with word that Robert Kennedy was in grave condition. Instantly I intuited that I’d put a mark on him down the hill in Van Nuys. What a horrid feeling that was. To feel in your bones that you had set something in motion, that it was all your own fault. I didn’t fish that day. Dad dropped me off on Broadway in downtown and I set out to try and find Good Samaritan Hospital.

Three weeks earlier, the junior senator from New York had appeared at Valley College. Every year since, I’ve remembered the date - May 15th. And I was young and not yet a renegade Catholic. so I climbed over the rear fence in Sunland to convince Bill Linsley to come along. Kennedy was approaching the apex of his pitched battle with Eugene McCarthy. One year later I was in Vietnam and I still could not have voted for him, was serving in a war zone - supposedly too young to shoulder the responsibility of voting. We left early but to no avail, the place was tightly packed two hours in advance. Youngsters were running from door to door of the Men’s Gymnasium pounding in vain, pleading for admittance. Outside speakers were set up so others could hear the candidate’s address. Music performed by the Strawberry Alarm Clock was broadcast, along with Richard Harris’ surrealistic rendering of Jimmy Webb’s ‘McArthur Park’, the one tune which truly has come to haunt L.A. over the past four decades.

1968_0516_rfkAfter standing and waiting for so long we finally heard a tremendous roar of voices coming up Ethel Avenue north of Burbank Boulevard. So hundreds of us ran over to a high fence to see the star-crossed younger brother. The scene remains indelible: he up atop the back seat of an open convertible with a man in front holding a portable spotlight, the center of an emotional riot. People had swarmed out into the street and all over that convertible! Total bedlam. Young men began scrambling over ten feet of chain link to join the chase. My friend Bill stood back to avoid the stampede while I started to dodge and run along the fence towards an entry gate further north. Then I managed to collide with someone’s ten speed bike and so there I was, down on the ground tangled up in spokes and I glanced back at Linsley and for forty years now, I’ve remembered him there amidst the swirl, bent over in convulsive laughter, stomping his foot on the ground.

Then I got up and together we took off running across the volleyball courts towards the drive where the caravan would enter. We stood back as the car passed by, it’s fenders loaded with kids. Hundreds were running alongside and so many more came swarming across the courts. And it seemed as though everyone was yelling and screaming. I still think of that sole moment of spring as the most electrifying of my life. Over the speakers came an inordinate roar from inside the gym. So we ran back to the front door where we figured he would enter to speak; we were the first ones there. The car arrived and stopped a minute later and we were surrounded by a youthful mass of humanity. A woman fainted in the crush and was passed hand to hand above the tightly packed throng. From the rear came a chant “We want Gene! We want Gene!” But our crowd was decidedly partisan; the McCarthyites quickly shut up and ran for safety.

Protected by a wedge of bodyguards, he didn’t shake hands and they pressed forward through the pandemonium. I couldn’t resist, lunged through the crowd and lightly touched his shoulder. He spoke on foreign affairs and jokingly asked how many were actually able to vote for him. Not many of us could have. That evening he didn’t quote Shaw and shook many hands in taking leave. Then the caravan rolled down the long drive back towards Ethel and I watched through the viewfinder of my camera as the car turned out and underneath the overpass which crosses there to the east. He suddenly bent forward with both hands clasped behind his head, down he went into the back seat. An L.A.P.D. officer had cleared the bridge only minutes before, yet someone had managed to return and throw something from above.

John Crandell

  • I grew up in the original Saugus, located in Massachusetts.

    I vividly remember getting up for school on June 6, and finding my mother sitting on the couch in front of our TV set, weeping quietly.

    I saw that the network was on at this early hour, and asked her what had happened.

    She said "They killed Bobby Kennedy last night."

    To a 10-year old kid, 1968 was indeed "The Incredible Year", as CBS titled their end-of-year retrospective 33 rpm album.

    JFK, MLK and RFK's murders made me a news junkie for life.

    Mike Mynahan
    Athol, MA

  • While only 19, I was working at a summer job that finished at 4 am. (In NY, during the 18 year drinking age years, one could tend bar at a resort night club.) As I was driving home, I turned on the radio and had one of those moments of clarity when you knew something had happened and who it happened to. The reporter said something about a shooting, but not who.  For some reason, I knew.

    During that time, I was in college and worked on the campus radio station. During the Pennsylvania primary, I had a chance to meet and ask questions of RFK. I fell in love. The dismay of the assassination (and the resulting convention) set me back on politics…and hope…for many years. One wonders what would have happened had he lived, won the nomination (which I think he would have done), won the Presidency and kept us from Nixon and, likely, much else.


    Bob Pinzler
    Newport Beach


  • Well, I was there at the Ambassador Hotel June 5, 1968. I was a freelance news photographer, working with a New York City photo agency. They told me that both Time and Newsweek wanted to use a close-up head-and-shoulders shot of RFK in the event he won the California primary.

    So I stood in just the right spot with a telephoto lens on my Nikon F, waiting for RFK to come out and announce he had won, or whatever. Actually, it was too close to call when he did come out and speak to the
    large crowd assembled.

    Then he went out of the ballroom where he was speaking, into a hallway I guess and then into the pantry, where he was shot.

    I heard the shots from where I was in the ballroom. They sounded like balloons popping. Then a young woman came my way, crying, and saying "they shot him." Both Time and Newsweek used some of my photos, but not on the cover.

    It's not fun to have someone keep you from voting for the person of your choice, and using a gun to do so. I wish I hadn't been there.

    Howard Decker

  • That year it felt like the world was falling apart. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April. My brother turned 18 in May and we were all terrified
    that he would be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I already had a cousin there.

    We were all riveted by the election, although my parents did not support Kennedy. I think they had never recovered from JFK's death and they were afraid to put their hearts into another Kennedy. I was 8 years old and had stayed up late the night before to watch the election returns, but was sent to bed before the speech. The next day was a school day, after all.

    The next morning we were all awakened by one of my 3rd grade classmates calling the house to report the news of the shooting. Another tragedy in a terrible year.



    Mary Alice McLoughlin

  • I can only talk through the eyes and perceptions of someone who is 11 years of age at the time of this incident.  The election was about a week and a half before LAUSD let the schools out for summer vacation and we were preparing our school play for when we graduated the following week.  I was attending Saticoy Elementary School, in North Hollywood and noticed there was a big push to get the vote out.  I still remember the returns coming in late into the morning and my parents letting me stay up late when KNBC or KTLA (I think) went off the air right after Sen. Kennedy saying, "...now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."   About one minute later the TV broadcast came back on and all heck was breaking loose, with screaming, crying and with the panic in the air, somebody saying "Senator Kennedy has been shot."  They ran him over to Central Receiving Hospital and then transferred him to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan, where he passed.

    I remember going to school the next day and there was an open discussion (we called it "Current Events") as to what happened through that Friday.  No grief counselors, psychologists or Dr. Phil's, just people talking about people and getting a greater understanding of life and society.  I also remember that there were a number of wild notions floated about, especially the one regarding the US support of Israel in the Six Day War (1967) and the Sirhan B. Sirhan being a Jordanian national.

    I remember the services for RFK, the broadcasting of the long train ride, the people waving from the stations and the rail-lines and the final trip across Memorial Bridge into Arlington National Cemetery, where he was eventually laid to rest.  I will always remember the photo of the busboy kneeling. Although a brilliant man, loving husband and father, outstanding legal mind and one who took on challenges, RFK has passed, but will never be forgotten, leastwise in Los Angeles, California.   

    For me, this is a key event in my life which sent me on the path of being politically active within the party I belong to.

    Steven Moshlak

  • I was driving that day with a friend on the Harbor Freeway and we saw this car with the top down and in it was Robert Kennedy and several  other persons and I screamed at him, well I called his name and he waved at us! I just cant believe that this happened 40 yrs ago!

    Bill Kraal

  • I was 11 years old when Bobby was killed. I lived with my parents and two brothers and one sister in the West Valley -- in Canoga Park. I had of course gone to bed that night before Bobby was shot. When I woke up in the morning, I went outside to pick up the morning paper lying in the driveway. I was shocked and stunned when I saw the headline -- a headline that is etched deeply into my memory. The headline was an eight-column, all-cap banner in big black letters:  RFK IS DEAD.

    Francesca Gentile

  • June, 1968, seems like a very long time ago now.  Life has continued and gone on, and his life and loss has become history for the two generations since.  For one for whom his life and loss is a real memory held all these years I can still hear him exhort us to "dream things that never were and ask, why not?"  It seems like it was only yesterday.

    Robert L. Hopkins

  • My name is Marc Mitchell.  I am 35 years old. My wife and I live in Redondo Beach.

    Although I was not born until the end of 1972, I have heard my father discuss the tragic turn of events from 6.6.68...

    My father was serving as an Officer in the Marine Corps in 1968.  He heard then news in Quantico VA; it broke his heart when he heard of Bobby's death. 

    Although many things would have been different had Bobby lived, my dad's words have always been, "you'll never know how many USMC officers were pulling for Bobby to win...because we knew if he were to win the Democratic nomination and then go on to win the general election in November 1968, come January 1969 Vietnam would be over."
  • I was barely two months old when Robert Kennedy was shot.  What I always found sad was the reaction my Father had.  He told me the story a number of times of course.  He said that when President John F. Kennedy was shot he was extremely sad.  When RFK was shot he was devestatingly sad and shook his fist at the world.

    Mario Valenti

  • It truly was the best of times, the worst of times as so many earth shattering, life changing, roller coaster events clashed and tumbled into one another.

    The Vietnam War was raging and Lyndon Johnson informed the nation that he would not seek re-election.

    I was engaged and preparing for a joyous summer wedding.

    Then, how could it be? The horrifying  death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. occurred, wounding so many of us in the process yet igniting the flame within.

    I graduated with honors, anxiously anticipating the start of what would become a lifelong career ... a passion and calling ... in education.

    And then, the very morning after my college graduation, the roller coaster skidded out of control.

    Robert Kennedy was murdered.

    The nation prepared for an unspeakable task: Losing another Kennedy, burying another kindred soul.

    I will never forget standing by the side of the embankment near my home on the outskirts of Baltimore, waiting for RFK's funeral train to pass by.

    As the train slowly came into view, I bowed my head and said a prayer. I gazed at the heavens and knew I was not alone.

    A young college girl no more, I prepared for my future life .

    I would become a teacher, wife, principal, mother, regional superintendent of schools and a journalist.

    But that very day, I simply became. I vowed to make a difference in the lives of others.  Most especially, for each and every child.

    Fervently, that focus has never wavered. Nor has the profound impact upon me of that spring of 1968.

    The tragic deaths of Dr. King and RFK, along with countless other heroes, many whose names we may not be able to recite, fortified for me that their lives must forever be glorified in our deeds and honored in our actions.

    God bless you evermore.

    Bev Berlett Norwood

  • I was only 9 years old in 1968 but I remember so much....we lived near the
    Miracle Mile district of LA, right there at the corner of Olympic Blvd and
    Burnside Ave. At night the adults would have dinner parties and all the men
    spoke so loudly. You might as well listen to them discuss whether or not
    Kennedy should sell jet planes to Israel following the 6-Day War, or if
    Lyndon Johnson would run for re-election.

    At the end of the block there was a two story house (or was it duplex?) with
    a huge banner signaling support for Gene McCarthy. The kids in my class at
    Wilshire Crest Elementary School on Olympic would put bumperstickers on our
    3-ring binders. The coolest boy with the longest hair, Scott C., had
    McCarthy.  I had Kennedy.

    Scott taunted me, "you know if Kennedy gets elected, he'll make us to go to
    school in the summertime." I came home and begged my mother to switch her
    support. She stood firm. "Bobby Kennedy absolutely will not do that and I
    guarantee he doesn't care. Presidents don't have time to worry about summer
    school!"

    It was another night in front of the television--the same as when JFK's
    funeral procession played and played and played in an endless loop,
    preempting Captain Kangaroo and thus inserting this moment into my
    consciousness. Or the night when Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not
    run for re-election and my mother screamed that she had just won her bet
    made with her friend, Viviane.

    I remember the news cameras switching to some scene, some office, somewhere
    in California where vote counters manually turned knobs and levers to track
    the incoming votes. Large white numbers appeared on a wooden board and
    counters climbed up and down ladders to change them.

    Of course it was bedtime. I don't remember any speeches. Just the darkness
    of my bedroom. Until some moment when my mother opened my door, only the red
    embers of her constant cigarette visible in the darkness.

    I struggled awake. "Did he win? Did he win?"

    "Yes," my mother answered very carefully. "But he's been shot."

    My mother later told me that when she went into her own bedroom to tell my
    father the news, he turned up from his pillow for a moment, disbelieving.
    "You're sick," was his response.

    I went to school that morning. There was talk on the news that even if RFK
    lived, he would be a vegetable. If you were 9 years old, you could convince
    each other there were reasons to be hopeful. On the playground, all the kids
    formed a circle, talking about it.

    "Now there's only two of them left," said one little girl named Tami. "Teddy
    and Eddy."

    I'll be 49 this year. But I've never stopped being annoyed by Tami's
    confusion but also wishing it were true. That we had a couple more of those
    amazing post-war leaders who could move the whole country forward. Instead
    of backward, which is where we've been since Nixon won, then Reagan, then
    Bush the elder, and Bush the dauphin.

    Barbara Tannenbaum

  • On June 5, 1968, I was a 20-year old volunteer working in the McCarthy campaign, in LA.  What I most remember was the morning after Bobby Kennedy was shot, when I went with a small group of McCarthy volunteers to RFK headquarters in, I believe, Westwood.  Bobby Kennedy did not have the army of youth volunteers that Gene McCarthy had, and RFK’s campaign needed help tearing down the operation and cleaning up the building.  When I walked into RFK headquarters the morning after the primary and the shooting, Bobby had not yet died.  I recall one young RFK staffer, in particular, a young black man, an attorney, in a 3-piece suit and wire rimmed glasses, holding himself up against a desk, weeping and utterly inconsolable by me or anyone.  Later that day I flew out of LA, back home to Kansas City.  In the air, as the light was draining from the western sky, the captain’s voice came over the intercom, to tell us that Bobby Kennedy had died.  I cried.  To this day, I love to read RFK’s speeches, the greatest of which is the speech he gave in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, after Martin Luther King’s assassination.  In it, he says: My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."   

    Scott Temple, Ph.D.

  • Thank you, LA Times, for helping me, us, to remember Robert F. Kennedy. I was only 14 years old, but genuinely interested in what was going on in politics and the upcoming election. Only in the ensuing years have I gained a sense of what was lost with the shooting of RFK. I look at these photos and weep for my country--how far we have fallen. Damn it! Again, thank you so very much.

    Ted Moreno

  • I was a student at an Iowa high school, about to complete my sophomore year.  I was awakened on June 5th  by  Dionne Warwick singing “Do you know the way to San Jose?”.  When the song finished, the local radio personality stated the Bobby Kennedy had been shot following a victory celebration in Los Angeles.  A rush of emotion filled my body.  My family, sitting downstairs around the kitchen table, appeared unmoved by the news of the horrible event.  I managed to survive the remainder of the school year, but my mind often strayed, visualizing everything that could have been.                                  

    To this day, I hate the artificially cheerful song I heard first thing on the morning of June 5, 1968 

    Georgia Fuoto

  • In 1968 I was a college student, and my Mom and I went door to door campaigning for RFK and registering people to vote. It was an exciting time. There was so much hope at the time. It was clear that our country could regain its integrity and compassion with Bobby Kennedy in the White House. After the horrible assassinations of JFK and MLK, the universe seemed to be righting itself again.

    I had a bulletin board with inspirational quotes from Bobby in my bedroom. I was inspired to volunteer for the VISTA program to help with inner city kids and to become actively involved in the Civil Rights and peace movements.

    Bobby and Ethel came to Indiana for the primary and met with us volunteers. They were both so gracious and up-lifting. They took the time to greet and shake hands with each of individually. We all knew we were part of something big, something very special, and maybe even monumental.

    A few days later my clock radio woke me with the words that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. My world crumbled. I was not able to stop crying, and so I skipped my final exams that day. I could not imagine ever being able to be happy or care again. Evil had once again triumphed over good. And so it seemed that it would always be the same. There was no point in trying to make the world a better place, because there would always be violent destruction of any attempt to make things better.

    The next semester I wrote a paper comparing RFK to Jesus. I used parallel quotes, their shared compassion for the poor and their murders for political reasons by ignorant, evil men. It was a bold step for a student at a Methodist University!

    I feel like RFK's life and subsequent assassination had a profound impact on my life. Although I became disillusioned, and at times cynical, I have also felt compelled to speak up for justice and peace and to devote my life to work in human services.

    Thanks for this opportunity to share feelings about this important, life-changing experience in the lives of those of us who lived through it.

    MV Conley

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