On today’s date, June 5, 46 years ago in 1968, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy of New York was assassinated shortly after he won the California Primary for the Democratic Nomination for the Presidency of the United States. The assassination took place shortly after midnight. The primary election day had been on June 4, and RFK had addressed supporters in the Ballroom of the Embassy Hotel at about 12:10 a.m. He left the ballroom through a back way; the kitchen and pantry area. At that time Secret Service protection was only provided for incumbent presidents, so RFK’s only security was provided by William Barry, a former FBI agent, and by two former pro athletes, one of whom was former football star Rosey Grier. During the campaign RFK had welcomed contact directly with the public and often shook hands with the crowds of people who came out to see him. Unfortunately, this time, there was an individual waiting for him with a gun. The Senator was shot three times behind his right ear. After an interval of intense confusion and horror, RFK was taken to Central Receiving Hospital, and then shortly after to the Hospital for the Good Samaritan, where after surgery lasting over three hours he died the next day at @ 1;45 a.m., nearly 26 hours after the shooting.
RFK and Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s Eulogy
Those are the barest of facts of the terrible events of this day 45 years ago. I was only eight years old at the time, and I can remember it. I can remember asking my mother what the word “assassinate” meant. I can recall in my child’s imagination the ghost of the Senator meeting the ghost of his late brother, both in their dark business suits and telling him what had happened. Those of you who are old enough to remember your reactions at the time are welcome to write in to me to tell me about them, and I will publish them here. He was not a perfect man. As Attorney General during the administration of John F. Kennedy, he served as his brother’s protector, and frequently a vicious one. He came to earn the enmity of many politicians… it is known that RFK and Lyndon B. Johnson cordially despised each other. Nevertheless, he also earned the enmity of the organized crime leaders whom he put behind bars and also of such figures as Jimmy Hoffa – the corrupt head of the Teamster’s Union. And he earned the undying love and affection of those poor and minority Americans whose cause he took up. As for the cause of peace in Vietnam, we are left as we were with his brother the President to the melancholy consideration of what might have been. Would he have won the Democratic Nomination? Probably. Would he have defeated Nixon in the election that November? Possibly. We’ll just never know.
But I choose on this day not to dwell on what happened that night. I REFUSE to even mention the name of his murderer, nor to dignify the many conspiracy theories that have grown up around this event with any special mention. I choose instead to remember the life of this remarkable man by quoting (in part) the very moving eulogy delivered by his brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy at RFK’s funeral on June 8. A video of these excerpts can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N105wUjgTcM
“On behalf of Mrs. Robert Kennedy, her children and the parents and sisters of Robert Kennedy, I want to express what we feel to those who mourn with us today in this Cathedral and around the world. We loved him as a brother and father and son. From his parents, and from his older brothers and sisters – Joe, Kathleen and Jack – he received inspiration which he passed on to all of us. He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side.
Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and lived it intensely.
What he leaves us is what he said, what he did and what he stood for. A speech he made to the young people of South Africa on their Day of Affirmation in 1966 sums it up the best, and I would read it now:
“There is a discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; and millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich; and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows.
But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.
Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”
That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.
My brother 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. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
A memory of June 5, 1968 from Karenina Nallick:
Hey Brian and all others with memories of Robert Kennedy’s assassination!
These were the days of no 24/7 news coverage; no fax; no cell phone; and no internet! We all relied on scheduled news hours – typically broadcasted 6 or 7pm and 11pm on TV unless a national tragedy that might interrupt scheduled TV programming. Otherwise, radio was still heavily relied upon for breaking news.That’s how I found out about Robert Kennedy. I had a heavily teething 5 month old that kept me up a good portion of the night. Around 5am, I was up again with my raw gummed infant when I had given up on sleep to prepare his breakfast pablum and formula in the kitchen. I automatically turned on the counter top kitchen radio – almost a staple in every kitchen in 1968 – to hear the announcer reporting that Robert Kennedy has died from a gunshot wound earlier, in a hotel, a mere 15 miles where I lived!
My day had already been tinged with a sleepy fogginess from lack of sleep but now, with this news, my world went completely grey – very sullenly grey. How could this happen? On the seemingly heels of his brother’s assassination, President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It felt absolutely incomprehensible that this could be happening again! Oh god, I thought, is this the beginning of the end as I pressed my infant son protectively close to my bosom.
History will be the judge but that fate filled day caused me to hold life a little more closely.
The above website contains the complete transcript of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s eulogy.