Fifty years on, the photo is still haunting for those of us who saw it first in 1968. A 17-year old busboy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles kneels next to a mortally wounded Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy, a candidate for president, had just won the 1968 California Democratic Primary and was on his way from the ballroom where he'd given a victory speech to a smaller banquet room for a news conference with reporters. He took the shortcut between the two---the hotel's pantry. No one knew 24-year-old Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was waiting with a gun.
The busboy's name was Juan Romero. In that photo, he's trying to comfort the wounded Bobby Kennedy. A Catholic like Kennedy, he'd just taken his rosary beads and put them in RFK's hand. And though I swore in June of 1968 that I'd never forget the details of the photo above, time, as it will, blurred them.
Until today. When the news came that Juan Romero, who'd been living in Modesto, died this week of a heart attack and its complications at the age of 68, a lot came rushing back. But there was a lot more to know.
Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez first interviewed Romero in 1998---30 years after the assassination. They stayed in touch over the years. If you wonder what life would be like for a young man of 17 who lived through such a tragic ordeal, the answer is it wasn't easy. Romero was tortured by the memory---even stopped celebrating his own birthday for many years because it was in the same month as the assassination---June.
Steve Lopez' piece in today's Times is worth your while. Here's the link.
If you're looking for a single takeaway, here's mine: Lopez met up with Romero eight years ago at Robert Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. Romero said he wanted to pay his respects and tell Kennedy that he had tried to live a life of tolerance and humility. Romero said he also wanted to apologize.
Steve Lopez and I agree---Juan Romero had nothing to apologize for. He was a young man who reacted to tragedy and violence with comfort and kindness. May he rest in peace.