Robert F. Kennedy died 45 years ago today.
He was shot the previous day, just after midnight June 5, 1968, after making a speech following his win in the June 4 Democratic primary in California. Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy in the head as the New York senator and his entourage passed through the kitchen of the Ambassador hotel after leaving the ballroom full of Kennedy supporters.
I was 14 and just had watched coverage of the primary results on NBC-TV early in the morning Little Rock time. Not having been a particular fan of Kennedy in that presidential race, I remember being impressed by the speech and thinking, “Well, maybe he’s not so bad.”
Sander Vanocur, longtime NBC newsman, was summing up coverage of the Kennedy win and began signing off when he began fiddling with his earpiece, and then said something like, “We understand that there’s been a shooting at the Ambassador Hotel, so we go back there now.”
The screen shifted to chaos as an NBC cameraman and reporter apparently were trying to get close to the scene in the hotel kitchen.
I don’t remember specifics of the coverage after that, but it was nearly daylight before I went to bed.
My family was living in the Westgate Apartments at the time, waiting for a house on Wemberly Drive in Allendale, a housing addition across from McClellan High School, to be finished. When I awoke late that morning, I went outside in the parking lot, where my mother was talking to her brother, Bob Moore. My uncle had stopped by to tell us of the birth of my cousin, Andy Moore, early that morning and the conversation quickly had shifted to the RFK shooting.
That seems ironic now because Bob (my uncle) and my grandfather, Andy Moore, were ardent admirers of John Kennedy and, though my grandfather had passed away in 1967, Bob was an RFK supporter. He likely wouldn’t acknowledge that now because he’s a Republican, but it’s true. (I originally typed “right-wing Republican,” but realized that neither party has right and left wings anymore, so it wasn’t necessary.)
Much despair followed Robert Kennedy’s shooting, and I likely didn’t appreciate, as a 14-year-old in 1968, the degree to which that it was true.
His shooting began the era in which presidential candidates started worrying about personal safety as they campaigned. I can’t remember now if it was the RFK shooting or the assassination attempt of George Wallace in 1972 added with it that led to the required protection of candidates by the Secret Service. Unfortunately, such protection is necessary and is one of the first things that is taken care of when someone mounts a serious presidential campaign.