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Bob Lonsberry

45 Years After Bobby Fell

 
45 Years After Bobby Fell
Like most of America, we woke up to the news that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. It happened late at night, on the West Coast, and it was a deed of darkness, committed when most decent people were home asleep.

I was 8 and we lived in a black and Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles. 

In those days and in that place, people were afraid of riots. We had seen Watts burn from our front door, and we had locked ourselves in when Martin Luther King was killed. 

But that morning nobody was afraid and nobody rioted. People just sat there stunned. At least my mother and step-father did. In the early hours before they went off to work in the restaurants, they watched in sad silence as the local newscasters recounted what had happened at the hotel.

It's hard to imagine now, four and a half decades later, but on that morning it was a “not again” moment, as the nation collectively sucked in its breath at this assassination, at the third such murder in a handful of years. It was impossible to fathom that such a thing had been done again, that another life had been taken, that another leader had been stolen. 

In my boyhood, a president was murdered and a hero was murdered and a candidate was murdered. Jack, Martin and Bobby. It was, in retrospect, surreal. It is a testament to our Republic that we survived and even prospered.

From that morning, I remember the emotion of my mother and step-father, my own fear at such an instability in society, and the report that Rosey Grier had tackled the assassin and broken his thumb. Rosey Grier was a hero and a friend in those days, a big football player with a happy smile, just emerging as an entertainer, the giant black man who was Bobby Kennedy's bodyguard. 

At the moment of the attack, Rosey Grier was guarding Mrs. Kennedy. But as the .22 pistol fired and fired and fired, as the senator and a handful of others fell wounded to the floor, Rosey Grier flew through the air and fought the young gunman to the ground. As he wrested the pistol from the assassin's hand, Rosey Grier broke Sirhan Sirhan's thumb.

I remember hearing that, and being glad and hearing adults say that if Rosey Grier couldn't protect him, he couldn't be protected.

He died sometime the next day.

Sirhan Sirhan and Rosey Grier are still alive. The murderer is in prison in California, a Christian Palestinian who was motivated by Bobby Kennedy's support for Israel. Rosey was an actor and entertainer, a speaker, and now a Christian minister. 

In the years since, I have learned about the important people who supported Bobby Kennedy and the coalition that fell apart in the wake of his death and the great turn our history took as a result of his assassination.

But then, and for the months and years after, you gaged the loss by the pictures people hung on their walls. Many people already had framed portraits of Jack Kennedy, bought special or cut from magazine covers, hanging in their homes. After Bobby was killed, there were pictures of him that were put out and one painting that was especially popular, of the two of them together, in profile. 

These were men people wanted to remember. These were men people loved.

Yes, they may have been loved more or more particularly by people who shared their political views, but growing up I never noticed any difference between people of the two parties. Some might not have agreed with Bobby's politics, but he died for his country – like his two brothers – and he left a widow and a large family, and sharing that sorrow has nothing to do with party.

I was 3 when his brother was killed, and I remember going to my step-grandmother's house and crowding in with her neighbors to see the funeral on black and white television. I don't recall Bobby's funeral, just the morning after he was shot.

I attended a workshop once, when I was in newspapering, where we had a presentation by the man who took the pictures of Bobby laying there wounded in the busboy's arms. As he flashed the slides and told how he had taken the pictures, 50 of us in the room sat silently, witnesses to a witness.

As an adult, I have visited Arlington National Cemetery and stood near the graves of the two brothers. I have considered that they both died in the service of our country.

It has been more than 30 years since someone has tried to kill our president, or one of our national leaders. But in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, it happened at least once a decade. They were evil efforts to cheat the will of the people and to subvert our Republic.

Some of the attempts succeeded in taking a life, but they were not successful at shaking our faith. We moved on, time and time again. And we have moved on now.

I am not an old man, but I remember 45 years ago.

And I hope I never have anything like it to remember ever again.

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