Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated in 1968

Thursday, June 4, 2015, 12:00 PM

 (Originally published by the Daily News on June 5, 1968. This story was written by Jerry Greene and Paul Healy.)
LOS ANGELES, June 5 - Sen. Robert Kennedy was shot and critically wounded early today as he left a victory celebration at the Ambassador Hotel here. He had just acknowledged to an enthusiastic crowd his victory over Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the vital California Democratic Presidential primary election.
About his condition, the Senator’s press aide Frank Mankiewicz said of Kennedy: “He’s alive.”
The hotel ballroom was turned into pandemonium.
Kennedy was reported shot twice in the head. The younger brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy had just finished a victory statement and stepped from the podium with his wife, Ethel, when a gunman apparently leaped up and fired at least five shots from a small-caliber pistol from short distance.
Kennedy and three others were wounded.
Paul Schrade, a United Auto Workers Union worker, suffered a superficial head injury. Ira Weisel, a television newsman, and Ira Goldstein an ABC cameraman, were wounded, but reported in good condition.
Witness said Roosevelt Grier, a professional football player traveling with Kennedy, grabbed the assailant. They reportedly struggled and the revolver dropped to the floor near where Kennedy lay in a puddle of blood.
Dr. Marcus McBroom of Los Angeles, a witness, said the suspect about 25 years old, wearing a work shirt, his hair tousled, fired one shot, then four or five more in quick succession. He said the man was yelling “something about saving the country.” “What he said was something like ‘I did it for my country’,” McBroom said.

June 5, 1968 RFK shot. New York Daily News
Police took the man into custody and rushed him through the hotel to a car as an angry crowd surged around.
Kennedy was helped to an anteroom, holding a handkerchief to his face with both hands. He was heard to ask:
“Is everybody okay?”
A call went out for doctors.
The senator was then taken by ambulance to Central Receiving Hospital nearby, where he was given the last rites of the Catholic Church about 1 a.m. (4 a.m. New York time) by the Rev. Thomas Peacha.
Then Kennedy was transferred to nearby Good Samaritan Hospital, where a neurosurgeon was waiting. He was reported shot twice in the head - once in the forehead and once near the right ear.
Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s campaign aid, came out of Central Receiving and said there was “no word.” Other sources reported the senator’s condition “critical.”
Mankiewicz told newsmen that Kennedy “is breathing well and has a good heart. I do not think he is conscious.” Asked the senator’s condition, he said it was “stable,” and that Kennedy was “alive.”
An unidentified person in the Central Receiving Hospital’s emergency room said Kennedy appeared to be unconscious. He was carried from the hospital on the stretcher, a bottle of blood plasma suspended over the stretcher.
Dr. Ross Miller, one of the doctors who first examined Kennedy, said his vital signs were stable. But he described his condition as critical.
Kennedy’s wife, expecting their 11th child, rode with him in the ambulance.
Word of the shooting swept like a shock-wave through the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where McCarthy’s backers were gathered. Sobs and gasps swept through the crowd and a melancholy silence fell over the gathering.
McCarthy, who had retired to his suite at the hotel, was told. He came out to the grand ball room and asked the crowd here to join him in a moment of silent prayer.
In Sacramento, a spokesman for Gov. Ronald Reagan said Reagan “deplored” the shooting. He said Reagan will take any means available to “assist in the apprehension of those responsible.”
There was an early report that Stephen Smith, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, also had been shot. But this was erroneous. Smith a short time later grabbed a microphone and begged the milling crowd to leave the room.
The scene was nationally televised by cameras covering the victory celebration. The scene of happiness quickly turned to one of terror as the news of the shooting spread.
Wife Kneels Over Him
“Oh, my God!” “Not again!” “No! No!” the crowd shouted.
Author George Plimpton, front left, and J.W. Gallivan, Jr., a Robert Kennedy aide, try to wrestle the pistol out of the hand of Sirhan Sirhan, who had just fired the fatal shots at presidential hopeful Sen. Robert Kennedy.
As Kennedy was lifted onto a stretcher, he said: “Oh no! No! Don’t!” he was semiconscious, and apparently in pain.
Ethel bent over and cradled her husband’s head - much as Jacqueline Kennedy had held her assassinated husband in Dallas, on Nov. 21, 1963.
People wept openly, some hysterically. Others cried: “Kill him!” as the assailant was rushed out of the Embassy Room, in which the celebration had been held. The room was sealed off by police.
Athlete Grabs Gunman
The suspect was grabbed immediately after the shooting. Rayford Johnson, a former Olympics Decathlon champion who had been working in Kennedy’s campaign seized him. Grier slugged the man, and was pulled of by others nearby.
Later, as the priest approached the hospital to minister to Kennedy, he was shoved aside by a policeman. There was a brief tussle between the policeman and Mrs. Kennedy, who grabbed at him. She was jostled.
But the incident was quickly over and the priest was admitted to the room.
Mrs. Kennedy was reported in complete control.
A policeman was quoted as saying that a second man had been taken into custody, but there were no details.
Ron Bennett, a photographer for United Press International was standing near Kennedy when the shots rang out. He said the Senator had finished speaking, had grasped a few hands and then had walked directly behind the podium, through an access to a kitchen area.
It looked like he might be headed toward employes’ entrance. A lot of people were behind him. Mrs. Kennedy was a half step behind her husband.
A Sound Like Firecrackers
“I heard some things that sounded like firecrackers,” said Bennett. “People started yelling and fell to the ground. I fell down, too.
“The man next to me was shot… I think in the head.
“Kennedy was on the floor bleeding from the top of the head. His wife… told everybody to get back and give Kennedy air.”
A priest handed Kennedy a Rosary.
“He clenched it tightly and I was pushed away,” the unidentified priest related.
Mankiewicz said Kennedy had received “no threats that I know of” in recent days.

Sirhan Sirhan: The First Lone Wolf
The man who murdered Robert Kennedy 47 years ago was the first — but not the last.
By Jeffrey Lord – 6.4.15
He was America’s original lone wolf.
It is 1989. Twenty-one years after the assassination of New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy on the night in 1968 that he won the California Democratic primary, sending him into a real battle for the party’s presidential nomination.
Sitting across from the famous British television interviewer David Frost, Bobby Kennedy’s assassin — America’s first “lone wolf” inspired by hatred of Israel — made it plain why he had done what he had done. Sirhan Sirhan said this to Frost, as reported by the New York Times:
In the interview, Mr. Sirhan, who is a Jordanian immigrant, said that when Mr. Kennedy gave a speech in support of sending United States fighter jets to Israel, ''that seemed as though it were a betrayal.''
'His Sole Support of Israel’
“My only connection with Robert Kennedy was his sole support of Israel and his deliberate attempt to send those 50 bombers to Israel to obviously do harm to the Palestinians.”
Mr. Sirhan, 44 years old, said that when he killed Mr. Kennedy, who was then the leading candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, “I was not doing it out of personal malice toward the man, but out of concern for other people.”
Mr. Kennedy “was my hero,” Mr. Sirhan said. “He was my champion.”
“I can't say anything except that I am totally sorry and feel nothing but remorse for having caused that tragic death,” Mr. Sirhan said.
In other words? The first real Islamic terrorist attack inside America was what we now call a “lone wolf attack.” It was provoked by the American role in the Middle East and it came not on 9/11 of 2001, but thirty-three years earlier, just after midnight of June 5, 1968.
For those not around in the day, Bobby Kennedy was perhaps the most magnetic of the three Kennedy brothers who burst on the American scene in 1960. Younger than Jack and older than Ted, Bob Kennedy was at first an unlikely candidate for anything. He had a shyness and reserve that alternated with a passion to elect his brother president. Which he did as JFK’s campaign manager in 1960. Appointed Attorney General, RFK quickly launched his Justice Department as a determined opponent of organized crime and a (albeit reluctant) supporter of the burgeoning civil rights movement.
His brother’s assassination in Dallas in November of 1963 would eventually launch Kennedy on his own career. He was a mortal political enemy of the new president Lyndon Johnson, their contempt for each other legendary. By the summer of 1964 Bobby had resigned his Cabinet seat, bought a home in New York, and become the Democrats’ nominee for the U.S. Senate. He won.
For what would be the remaining three years of his life, Bobby Kennedy heralded something new in American politics — a combination politician and cultural icon with a rock star following. On the congressional election trail for Democratic candidates in 1966 crowds would swarm him, tearing at his clothes, tousling his hair, and treating him as those other mid-sixties icons — the Beatles — were treated.
All of this proceeded as the Vietnam War picked up speed. With Kennedy — again too slowly for some on the Left — beginning to separate from LBJ. In his third year in the U.S. Senate what would become known as the “Six Day War” between Israel and its Arab enemies was launched. With America’s leaders — prominently including Bobby Kennedy — standing fast by Israel’s side.
Refusing to run for president himself and to challenge LBJ in the 1968 Democratic primaries, RFK sat on the sidelines at first and watched the unlikely candidacy of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy channel the youthful anti-war opposition to LBJ. By March of 1968, with McCarthy having almost upset LBJ in New Hampshire, Kennedy could stand the pressure no more. On March 16, 1968 Kennedy jumped into the race — and the not-so-pent-up Kennedy mania broke loose, surging across the country. Two weeks later, LBJ, sensing his political doom, unexpectedly withdrew. Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey jumped in — and the Kennedy/McCarthy/Humphrey race for the Democratic nomination was on in earnest. Winning some primaries and losing others, Kennedy on June 4 won the last primary of the season, California, in a high-stakes, tumultuous campaign. Stepping to the podium to claim victory in the Ambassador Hotel ballroom in Los Angeles just before midnight, Kennedy spoke to a thunderous ovation from the ecstatic crowd. Ending his speech with “it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there” — a reference to the August convention — he began to leave. In the commotion — and in the day candidates other than a sitting president had no Secret Service protection — he was turned around and guided out a back way through the Ambassador’s kitchen. Standing on a table in the kitchen, Sirhan Sirhan, gun in hand, was waiting to extract lone wolf-style vengeance for Kennedy’s support of Israel. He did.
The entire nation and a good bit of the Western world were thrown into chaos in the days that followed. The sheer awfulness of Kennedy meeting the same fate as his presidential brother escaped no one. In a sign of the America that was to come, what Ronald Reagan’s future UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick would years later call the “blame America first” crowd surfaced. One television station scrubbed its programming for a while, substituting a static screen with the word “SHAME” written large. Even as word leaked out that the assassin was a Jordanian immigrant and had scribbled his animus towards Kennedy over RFK’s support for Israel in his diary, the overwhelming reaction in the media of the day was to blame some combination of America, the NRA, and, yes, inevitably, conservatives for somehow being responsible for Kennedy’s death.
There was no serious attention given to the idea that what Sirhan Sirhan had done was in fact the first — and not the last — appearance of what we now call “Islamic terrorism” on American shores. Yes, Sirhan was technically a Christian — his family were Palestinian Christians. Yet the Palestinian cause for which he killed was overwhelmingly pro-Islamic. The CIA fact book notes that 75 percent of the West Bank and 99 percent of the West Bank and 99 percent of the Gaza Strip are Muslim and in 1968 as now the causes of Palestine, Islam, and the Arab world were immutably entwined. Yet all of this was ignored when Sirhan pulled the trigger in the name of the Palestinian cause.  Much less was he seen as the herald of a future world prowled by shadowy ISIS “lone wolves.”
Over the following years this type of terrorism became more frequent — but it was abroad. The attack on the 1972 Olympics killed Israeli athletes. The American hostages in Iran were in Iran. A TWA plane hijacking in the 1980s had the terrorists killing an American sailor — when the plane was in Lebanon. The hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and the killing of an American Jew took place off the coast of Egypt. And on and on the list went — a Marine barracks in Lebanon, U.S. embassies in Africa, and the USS Cole in Yemen.
Then, finally, the assault on the American homeland on September 11, 2001.
The world has changed many times since that murderous night in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in June of 1968. What has not changed — what has, in fact, picked up steam — is the determination of Islamic terrorists to target “the Great Satan” that is the United States of America. American presidents come and go — eight of them from the then-incumbent Lyndon Johnson on through to George W. Bush with the ninth, Barack Obama, already at the center of a campaign to replace him with a tenth.
In March of this year, FBI Director James Comey warned of a social media campaign by ISIS to recruit “lone wolves” in America. Yesterday, word came from Boston of a plot by ISIS “lone wolf” sympathizers to behead a Boston policeman. Boston barely two years distant from the attack on the Boston Marathon by the Islam-devoted “lone wolf” Tsarnaev brothers. As with the almost-attack in Garland, Texas, by two more “lone wolves,” the term “lone wolf” has become the go-to phrase in today’s America. Lone wolf taking its place alongside the equally new term “self-radicalized.”
It has been a long forty-seven years since that June midnight in 1968.
But in retrospect? In retrospect the first of many “lone wolves” to come was already here in America. Waiting that midnight in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles, long before the existence of social media, ready to pursue his own deadly version of vengeance for American policy towards Israel and — by extension, Islam.
In retrospect? Bobby Kennedy was the first — the very first American victim of an Islamic lone wolf attack. Even more tragically, he would not be the last.

Why Doctors Couldn't Save RFK
This 1968 article details the extent of the Senator and presidential hopeful's fatal injuries.
By U.S. News Staff June 5, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EDT + More

This article originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report on June 17, 1968.
LOS ANGELES—Even before Senator Robert F. Kennedy was brought to Good Samaritan Hospital, the surgeons who were to operate on his brain knew that his case was desperate.
the General Receiving Hospital where he was first taken, that the Senator had needed heart massage, adrenalin and a heart-lung machine as emergency measures to restore heart and lung action.
These were bad signs to start with.
As the Good Samaritan surgeons began to clean and explore the Senator’s head wound, they found even greater cause for alarm.
Three bullets had hit the Senator. One grazed his forehead. Another lodged harmlessly in his neck. The third bullet, entering behind the right ear, smashed its way deep into Senator Kennedy’s head, damaged three principal parts of his brain:
  • The brain stem—a tube about three inches long and approximately an inch in diameter—had been torn. This was the most serious damage. The brain stem is the main cable connecting the brain with the rest of the body. Control of many vital functions of the body—blood pressure, breathing, heart rate—passes through the brain stem.
  • The cerebellum—an egg-shaped mass of brain tissue, was torn and bruised by large fragments of the bullet and slivers of shattered bone.
    This portion of the brain controls balance, muscle state and co-ordination.
  • The right side of the cerebrum—the top portion of the brain—was penetrated by pieces of bone, or fragments of the bullet. Blood clots and bleeding also damaged this area.
The cerebrum is the “thinking" part of the brain, as contrasted with the cerebellum, which is the “feeling" part.

Damage to any one of these three portions of the brain is serious. Damage to all three is usually disastrous. To Senator Kennedy it was fatal.