Seeing Kennedy in Ventura
I have a true personal story to tell about that fateful day June 5, 1968, about Bobby Kennedy’s visit to the Buena Ventura mall. What a surprise to open the May 31 copy of the VC Reporter and find the photos and article of Bobby Kennedy’s visit here 50 years ago!
When I heard Bobby Kennedy was coming through Ventura to speak on his way to Los Angeles, I thought it would be a great idea to see a Kennedy in person and be able to hear him speak. I and my 6-year-old son arrived early that day and stood on the sidewalk bordering the parking lot that he would be speaking from, when suddenly there was commotion from the street and as I looked ahead, there was the Kennedy car caravan coming toward us. After the car passed us and we saw Bobby in the one vehicle, we quickly walked across the parking lot to the stand that was set up with microphones and waited right up front for his arrival. We were within arm’s reach of him standing there trying to speak when all of a sudden a fellow started yelling abusive statements at Bobby regarding the multiple pregnancies he was causing his wife. A climber friend of Bobby’s, can’t remember his name, found the fellow and dispersed him without further problems.
The air suddenly became heavy and uncomfortable with words being thrown around so I decided it was time to leave as the mass of people was terrifying and closing in on those of us in the front rows. It was difficult getting my son and myself through the crowd but we managed after what seemed like forever and I was able to relax outside the throng of people. I was happy to be able to hear some of Bobby’s speech.
On June 5 while watching television from my home, suddenly a message came across the screen that stated Bobby Kennedy had been shot and of course later the news came that he was dead. I was stunned, thinking just a few days ago, I saw this man in person right here in Ventura and now he is dead.
Of course the Star Free Press edition had a photo of Bobby Kennedy at the Buena Ventura mall and as I scanned it, I saw myself right up front but my son being so small didn’t get in the photo. I had long hair at the time and had a white or light color head band on. It almost seemed unreal the following days after this tragedy. One had to reflect on how fast things can happen when you least expect them. A moment in history I will always remember.
I must say the current article by the VC Reporter about the visit of Bobby Kennedy 50 years ago brought back vivid memories of that day. A great thank you to the reporter Ivor Davis for his outstanding job with this article. Kudos to all the reporters and staff at VC Reporter for jobs well done with each issue.
“I worked for Bobby … .”
Sometime in the early ’90s I met RFK Jr. after a speech he made. My wife at the time knew this would be an emotional moment and stood aside. I approached Bobby Jr. and shook his hand, “I had the pleasure of working for your Dad in California, and the sadness of being near him when he was killed. ALL of us who were there would have gladly taken the bullets to see him live. He was TOO important to lose! I NEVER felt that way before or after him!” Bobby Jr. grasped my hand harder as his eyes filled as did mine. “You can’t know how much that means to our Family!”
After MLK was murdered I sat after a hard day campaigning in the office we rented near LACC. I looked at Ira Goldstein (who was later severely wounded in the pantry) and said “You know they will probably try and murder Bobby too! We need a Gestapo to protect him!” Ira looked at me sadly, “Yeah.”
June 4, 1968, was a hectic day for me. I had finals the next day and I was blowing them off to campaign. I was supposed to meet a fellow “Students for Kennedy” worker at the Ambassador that evening but she never showed so I went to the Embassy Room at around 7 p.m. When Bobby finally made his victory speech I was exhausted but asked an aid, “Where is Bobby coming down after the speech? I want to shake his hand.” The aid told me that he expected him to exit to the far side of the stage and I moved there. But Bobby darted under a gold curtain. Seeing I would miss him, I bolted onto the stage, went under the curtain and sprinted down a dark ramp toward a lit open door.
Just as I arrived at the pantry door I hear a loud noise and saw a flash on the ceiling before me in the pantry. Then a flurry of other noises and a flash of something next to my head on the door frame, the spark crossing my face. I stood in shock and horror as people ran past me. Then a man looked at me and he screamed, “GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!” I ran through a side door back into the Embassy Room where it was quiet.
I was in shock as I mounted a table and a man next to me motioned with his hand to his head like a gun. Steve Smith begged, “Is there a doctor in the house?” The room exploded in shock, not having any idea what had transpired in the next room. I went to a teletype operator and asked him if there was any news? “Where you in there?” he asked. “Yes!” “Was there any blood?” he asked and I cussed at him and left.
Leaving the Embassy Room they were bringing out Sirhan, two LAPD officers with shot guns holding him, Jesse Unruh clinching his collar. A man screamed, “Get the bastard! He shot Bobby” and ran at them. The officers had him on the floor in a second with a butt to his groin. When I arrived downstairs Rafer Johnson was coming out of the elevator and I asked him, “Is Bobby OK?” He looked stunned and answered “I don’t know!” It’s hard to describe the utter hopelessness of what we felt like after Bobby died.
I lived in the Hollywood Hills in what is called “Pill Hill” because so many doctors lived there. One neighbor was a Dr. Doyle and his kids were my friends. One day when I visited his home he took me aside. “Roger I know you worked for Bobby Kennedy. It was MY team that tried to save him! I wasn’t there, but I know the doctors who were! I know this is hard to hear but he was better to have died! The damage was too extensive and EVEN IF we had saved him the prognosis would have been very grim indeed! He would have been a vegetable!”
The LAPD called me weeks later and telephone interviewed me then sent me a nice letter, thanking me for the help. I worked in Watts with the Revitalization Corps painting elderly people’s homes and taking kids to the mountains and beaches. We worked with the consent of the Black Panthers who supported our efforts. It was a tearful time as each time any resident asked us “white kids” what the hell we were doing in Watts I’d say “I worked for Bobby … .” Never got the whole name out when they would tear up and I’d break down crying.
I dumped my studies at Art Center College of Design and moved to New York and took up Poly Sci at SUNY Binghamton. One night in 1970 Rennie Davis of the Chicago 7 was on campus and we met in a dorm. He began telling us about how we needed you take up violence to end the war and bring down the “pigs”! I looked at him and calmly just said “NO!” He gasped and asked why. “I was less than 10 feet from Bobby Kennedy when he was murdered! That’s why! I’ve had my fill of violence!” Rennie’s face turned red and he looked at me near tears. “You don’t have to explain any more!” Quietly everyone left the room.
For the past 50 years I’ve been interviewed and written about in books because “You saw a bullet hit that only the FBI acknowledges and it proves there were more than one gunman!” Those of us who were there know that! We know who murdered Bobby. He’s still alive, I believe, but revenge is pointless. It won’t bring back Bobby and the trail would lead to too many unsavory outcomes. In Poly Sci we studied Roman law. When someone was murdered the Roman’s did NOT ask, “Who did this?” They asked “Who profits from this?”
After Bobby was gone and in my utter hopelessness I looked at a photo of Ethel and the kids, “11 kids and NO Father!” I moaned to no one. Then it hit me “They can’t kill ALL of us!” A Byrds song became my mantra “Going Back.” Eventually I became a US history teacher and special ed teacher.
One summer I was doing a part-time job in an automotive oil change business. A former Afghan student came in and spotted me. “What are you doing HERE, Mr. Katz?” I laughed and told him teaching alone doesn’t pay the bills! A coworker chimed in insultingly, “I bet you don’t remember anything he told you in JUNIOR HIGH!” My former student now in a university smiled and said “I remember EVERYTHING Mr. Katz told us ESPECIALLY about the Kennedy’s.” What more validation can one get?