The Tragic Truth About Robert Kennedy's Death

The possibility of Robert Kennedy becoming president was seemingly the United States' last chance at a promising future, as told by History. He built a platform around race reform and social justice, aiming to unite Black Americans and the poor white working class, four years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Kennedy, like his brother, is a symbol of what could have been.

Bookended by the mystic Summer of Love in 1967 and Woodstock of 1969, 1968 was a particularly catastrophic year, according to History. With the Tet Offensive came the highest casualty toll of the Vietnam War. Beyond Vietnam, which was a major hit to Western ego and policy, communism was creeping in. After an attempt at democratization, the Prague Spring ended with Czechoslovakia falling back under the Soviet Union's oppressive, communist rule. Then, that April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

"It made me realize that no matter how much hope you have, it can be taken away in a second."

Those were the words of Juan Romero, the bus boy who shook Kennedy's hand just before he was shot. He reflected on Kennedy's death to the Los Angeles Times in 2015.

Robert Kennedy was the face of a different America

On June 5, 1968, Kennedy was leaving the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after giving a victory speech on the night of the California primary election. As he was exiting the building through a kitchen service area, Romero shook his hand to congratulate him on winning the primary. Kennedy was then shot from close range by 22-year old Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian born Jordanian citizen angry at Kennedy's support of Israel, per Britannica, who approached with a .22 revolver rolled up in a campaign poster, according to History. He would die the next day. Five others were also wounded in the ensuing chaos before Sirhan was tackled and disarmed.

Grief weighed heavy on Romero's conscience, who cradled the senator's head and stuffed rosary beads into his hand as he lay dying. As he told the Los Angeles Times, he couldn't help but wonder if Kennedy would still be alive had he not stopped to shake his hand. He quit his job not long after the assassination and moved to Wyoming.

"He made me feel like a regular citizen," Romero said, who moved from Mexico to Los Angeles at 10 years old. "He made me feel like a human being."

Romero experienced intense personal repercussions from this great American tragedy, and for decades, didn't even celebrate his own birthday, as it was also in June. Kennedy's tragic death was a major hit to the American psyche, pulling it from the edge of a brighter future back into chaos, and though Romero's life was but one of millions affected by the assassination, it is a particularly poignant reminder of the impact one person can have on another.