Around midnight PDT Senator Robert Kennedy had been declared the winner in the California primary in a hard fought battle with Senator Eugene McCarthy. He would enter the Embassy Room Ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel and give his victory speech. I have always found this footage hard to believe- one minute he is on top of the world, one of the finest moments in his life and the next minute he is mortally wounded. Like a flick of the switch. I am no big fan of the Kennedy families but this is a man’s life. Every time I see this footage I want to change his path- don’t go through the kitchen but every time he goes that way.
As RFK was walking to the ballroom to give his speech he said to a long time handler “I feel for the first time I’ve made it on my own. I feel like I’m finally out of the shadow of my brother.”
RFK had a meeting scheduled the next day in Chicago with Mayor Richard Daley who was one of the most powerful democrats in the country- a kingmaker. His son- a future mayor of Chicago and a Chief Of Staff for President Obama has said that his father told him there was a 70% chance he would endorse Robert Kennedy for president the next day. No one will ever know how things would have turned out had Kennedy not been shot. A lot of the RFK backers have claimed over the years that he would have gotten the nomination and would have gone on to beat Richard Milhous Nixon in November. Others say that Hubert Humphrey would have gotten the nomination still. My speculation is the way things were run back then Humphrey would have been the nominee. President Johnson was still the most powerful democrat and Johnson and Kennedy hated each other. Johnson would have pulled all the strings possible to keep RFK from getting the nomination- and making sure his Vice President- The Hube would get it.
Anyway- all speculation because following the speech Kennedy’s plan was to walk through the ballroom.”Kennedy planned to walk through the ballroom. His last words on the stage were the now famous- “My thanks to all of you; and now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there!” Kennedy was going to meet with another group of supporters but with the deadlines fast approaching for the press a decision was made to have a press conference first and as RFK left the stage his handlers told him that the plans had been changed and to try to avoid the crowds they were going to go through the kitchen and pantry area of the hotel to meet the press. His handlers were clearing the way ahead of him to walk in though the kitchen corridor when behind them RFK who was still greeting supporters was led by Karl Uecker the hotel’s maitre d through a back exit. The only security that RFK had was former FBI agent William Berry, decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and former football player Rosey Grier. As Kennedy was making his way through the kitchen he went to shake hands with a busboy Juan Romero when Sirhan Sirhan stepped out from behind an ice machine and repeatedly fired his .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver. Kennedy was hit three times- one in the head and two times in the back, a fourth bullet went through his jacket.
Berry, Grier, Johnson and writer George Plimpton all went at Sirhan and got the revolver from him, Sirhan was able to get it back but he had no bullets left in it to shoot. The busboy Romero cradled RFK’s head in his hands and placed a rosary in his hands. RFK asked “Is everyone OK” He was told everyone was OK- and RFK responded “Everything’s going to be ok.” When the medical attendants reached him RFK said weakly “Don’t lift me” and then drifted from consciousness for the final time. He was taken to Central Receiving Hospital where he arrived near death, after a half hour he was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and 3:12 PDT surgery began that would last 3 hours and 40 minutes. Senator Kennedy’s condition was grave.
Correction: In yesterday’s post I said Senator Eugene McCarthy was the senator from Wisconsin- he was a US Senator from bordering Minnesota. Wisconsin of course was the state that another McCarthy represented in the US Senate- Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy a decade earlier.
below is the chilling video from that terrible night in Los Angeles.