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Memories of RFK -- The Capital Region remembers the night Kennnedy died

Memories of RFK -- The Capital Region remembers the night Kennnedy died

50th anniversary spurs bittersweet memories
Memories of RFK -- The Capital Region remembers the night Kennnedy died
Robert F. Kennedy visits Skidmore College during the 1966-67 school year.
Photographer: Photo courtesy of Skidmore College

When many Americans saw Robert F. Kennedy, they saw the future of America.

They believed Kennedy -- campaigning to become the Democratic nominee for president during the spring of 1968 -- would become a vibrant voice in the White House. They thought he would win the office through his support for social justice and his stances against organized crime and U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

There would be new ideas, new hope, new policies. Young and poor people were on his side. So were the African-American, Hispanic and Catholic voting blocs. It was a time for optimism during the turbulent 1960s.

The campaign for the future ended in Los Angeles during the early morning hours of June 6, 1968. At 1:44 a.m. Pacific time, Kennedy died of gunshot injuries he'd suffered just after midnight on June 5, after winning the California primary.

The 42-year-old father of 11 had been mortally wounded in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, shot three times by 24-year-old Sirhan B. Sirhan.

In May, The Daily Gazette asked readers to share their memories about Robert F. Kennedy and his assassination of 50 years past. The letters we received follow.

 

Melanie "Tiny" Shuster

St. Johnsville

On October 12, 1964, Robert Kennedy was running for the office of the New York Senate. He wanted to visit a family farm and get a chance to talk about farming.

He came to our farm with an advance man called Jack Brebbia making all the arrangements. We then lived at 1433 Kennedy Road in St. Johnsville. The turnout from the farm community was very large, bringing apples and
homemade cider to our home to give it to him as we were a dairy farm.

The entourage was running late, it was nearly noon when they arrived.
Being farmers, we never miss a meal, so when he came into the kitchen we had a hamburger for him to tide him over. Bobby Abrams, owner of Glen and Mohawk Milk, was in the kitchen also making sure we had a picture of him drinking a very large glass of milk.

My neighbors the Bellingers had a gallon of fresh cider, a bushel of large home-grown apples and with his long, black coat he promptly filled the pockets with apples as he had a rather long itinerary and probably
needed nourishment.

Speaking on the back end of a farm truck was probably a unique experience, but just before he left he gave to each of my five children a P.T. Boat 109 tie clasp that he withdrew from one of his upper pockets,
probably in memory of his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy's tragic death the previous November in Dallas.

It is with sadness and regret that on June 6 this year it will be almost 50 years ago that he, too, was killed.


Pete O'Connell

Albany

Bobby Kennedy came to Glens Falls when he was running for the U.S. Senate in 1964. While there, he borrowed a pen from a kid in the crowd and told him that he would return it after the election. He did so on the day after he won.

My father, who was chair of the town of Corinth Democrat Committee (given the local politics, it was a very small committee), was on the tarmac that night and after that we got Christmas cards from the Kennedys -- manger scenes with his many kids filling the various roles.

Then, one night in 1967, my parents were headed off to bed after the 11:00 news when a late news flash came on telling that the North Vietnamese claimed that they had sunk my ship, the USS Canberra. My father got on the phone that night and Bobby himself called the next morning to tell him that the ship was hit, but not sunk.

They don't make politicians any more with that kind of a human touch.


Elizabeth Ciani 

Amsterdam

My memory of Robert Francis Kennedy began when my girlfriend Jackie and I first met him. We were standing on the sidewalk in front of the police station in Little Falls, N.Y., waiting for the motorcade to come down the street.

We were very excited, couldn't contain ourselves when all of a sudden came the motorcade with Robert Francis Kennedy on a platform. My girlfriend and I darted out to the platform and we got to shake Robert's hand and talk to him for a few minutes. We also had buttons
and banners of Robert Francis Kennedy. I don't think we even washed our hands for months. We couldn't get over that we met and shook Robert 
Francis Kennedy's hand.

Then the terrible day came when we heard Robert was killed. I was in nursing school and Jackie was in college becoming a lawyer. We didn't
believe that it was true.

Our hopes and dreams were shattered. You see, this would have been our first time voting for a president. We were broken-hearted, we were 
Kennedy fans and after all these years we still are.

I sent a sympathy card to Robert Francis Kennedy's wife Ethel and she sent me back a thank you note.

Of course, we still have hope. Robert Francis Kennedy's grandson is in the government. Maybe someday he will become president and carry on
what Robert Francis Kennedy couldn't do.

It would be great for another Kennedy in the White House.

Don't know if Jackie and I will ever see that day, but hope is there.


Gerald F. Plante

Schenectady

I was 8 years old when my senator was killed by an assassin's bullet in 1968.

The first thing I had to do was pray. I was attending St. Agnes Roman Catholic School in Utica at the time and Father Goulet told the nuns and teachers about RFK's death and to pray for his soul and the safety of our nation. Within days, Catholic schools received a laminated prayer and photo of RFK.

As a kid I was taken in by RFK from the start. My parents always had the local and national news on during supper time where they would talk about issues of the day. I was fascinated about all the news during this era because so much was going on in our nation; Vietnam, college campus peace rallies and anti-war protests. I learned. Quick. Politics and politicians became my mantra.

I admired RFK for his frankness, honesty and actions that still resonate today about how we need less violence in America, but more compassion, love of our fellow man. RFK's speeches would go into the realities of the day and how we could make the world better starting right at home.

So I did. On Election Day 1968 I walked up to the corner of my street and took down a Hubert Humphrey poster. It goes to show how an 8-year-old boy was so in tune with politics and politicians of the day that he had the presence of mind to save the remnants of what could have been; a young, fresh, energetic democratic president, Robert Francis Kennedy. I owe him a debt of gratitude for my own involvement with politics in my hometown years ago and the last several years in my adopted home of Schenectady. I believe I've made a difference for others in many areas. Thank you RFK -- after 50 years of your untimely passing, you're still an inspiration.


Mary O'Donnell

Mechanicville

I believe the year was 1966. I was 9 years old and attended a parochial school in Mechanicville. One day our teachers at the Sisters of St. Joseph marched our class down to the steps of city hall. There stood this thin man with reddish hair. I really didn't know much about him except that a fellow student said "He's a Kennedy and the nuns love the Kennedys."

As he began to speak he caught my attention, his voice, that dialect was something I had never heard, and it intrigued me to no end. After he spoke he made his way down the steps greeting people, and as he neared our group he smiled. "Wow," I thought, what a friendly, odd-sounding man. He patted my head and remarked on my "Shirley Temple" hair and how we must all be happy the sisters brought us down.

Some time later I would see him on TV. "Hey, I know that guy." A few years later when I heard of his death at school I remember thinking, how could someone kill that nice man? His death opened my eyes that there was a whole world outside of Mechanicville and a scary one at that. It started my journey out of childhood and had me asking a lot of questions."


Bob Abrams

Glenville

I worked on Senator Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968. We were volunteers who were eager to see an end to the war in Vietnam. Some of us had worked on Eugene McCarthy's campaign while we patiently waited for Senator Kennedy to announce.

I remember the day that he gave me an autographed picture of himself because we shared the same first name and since people also called me Bobby. We both hated that nickname so we also had that in common.

When he talked about the poor people he became very passionate, and after his visit to Appalachia he couldn't believe that people lived in such squalor in the richest country in the world. We were young and starry-eyed and hoped that he would change the world.

Then on that night in June when he won the California primary we cheered and thought that we were working for the next president and that he would end the war and continue the legacy of his brother. Suddenly our cheers turned into tears and rage as he lay dying on the floor in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.

I went to the Democratic Convention in Chicago and got my head busted open by the Chicago PD, was arrested, and after I was released I went home and never was involved in politics again.

Now I'm in my 70s and especially with the political climate in the country, I wish that we had someone like Robert F. Kennedy to save us from the insanity.


William Seyse

Scotia

I was 14 years old in the fall of 1964. Robert Kennedy was running for the U.S. Senate, and my father took me to hear him. He was late for an outdoor event in Utica, being held up across the street from the local paper, the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

After his remarks the crowd was mobbing his convertible and I wiggled my way close enough to shake his hand and tug at his sleeve. I popped back away from the crowd and moved up the street just enough to repeat the effort to get to the edge of his car and again shake his hand.

On the third or fourth of such go-rounds, a security guard placed his foot on my chest and pushed me away from the car. He did not kick me. He did not hurt me. But the act came while I was again shaking the candidate's hand. I can still see and hear Mr. Kennedy. Others were holding him so he wouldn't be pulled out of the car, and while he brushed his hair back with one hand he laughed and pointed at me -- "I think we've seen this one before."

I learned the news of his shooting early in the morning of June 6th, and went to school hoping he could survive. It had been just a few weeks from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think I was waiting for adults to explain it all to me somehow, and it took years before I realized they couldn't understand it either.

Similar perhaps to the school shootings we learn of all too frequently, we are numbed, distressed and angered. We are victims of the crimes, too, even though we do not bleed. We wonder how the world might be different if these victims were able to live out their lives. We just turn around and they are gone.


Mike Godlewski

Glenville

While I'm not entirely sure of all the timelines, my grandfather, Chester Godlewski, was a member of the Schenectady City Council and City Council president right around the time RFK visited the area.

My father tells me that he, meaning my dad, held one of the microphones while RFK was giving his stump speech on the courthouse steps.

When I campaign, I occasionally run into someone that my grandfather helped. He would frequently help Polish immigrants new to the area secure employment at General Electric and other nearby companies. He was heavily involved with the PNA on Crane Street, where a commemorative memorial now rests in front of the old Rite Aid and now Bridge Church.

My dad tells me that my grandfather organized and ran part of RFK's campaign for president in upstate New York. My father remembers the front foyer of their house on 2nd Avenue in Mont Pleasant being covered with Bobby Kennedy signs.

He tells me that when RFK was assassinated, he vividly remembers walking to the back of the house and seeing my grandfather sitting and weeping on their back stoop. The signs remained in the house for quite some time afterwards as my grandfather did not want to get rid of them. Like many from that time, he was a true believer in RFK and what his message meant for working class Americans and social progress.


Phil Davis

Scotia

It was 5:30 a.m. on the morning of June 6, 1968, it was at the end of my junior year at SUNY-Geneseo, and I was on my way to the main building of the Binghamton Evening Press in Vestal, N.Y., from my home near Oswego.

The press offices were right across the street from SUNY-Binghamton. I was due at work, as a summer sportswriter intern, at 6 a.m., and as I listened to hear baseball scores, I had some updates on the tragic ambush shooting of Senator Kennedy the day before.

At that early morning time, the radio story reported him to be in grave condition. Still alive.

My first daily task at The Press was to go to the wire services room and check the overnight stories from the AP sports wire printer. I would tear off copy and separate it into sports-specific bundles and take them to the assistant sports editor's desk, as he would start planning the day's pages and layout.

The wire room contained three wire service machines, or printers; the AP sports wire, the AP news wire and the UPI news wire. Each news service printer featured a small red light and a Klaxon, or horn, to alert news writers of important breaking stories.

As I was tearing baseball stories and box scores from the sports wire printer, the AP news wire Klaxon sounded and the light went on. Big story coming in. Of course, I checked it; didn't tear the story from the printer but ran to find a reporter in the news room. He guessed that it was a Kennedy update and went to get the copy from the wire. By then, a big stack of assassination updates and Bobby Kennedy biographical copy had come over the wire. It was an impressive array 50 years ago.

Local radio stations were getting this news just as we received it. We heard morning newscasts a short time later. Our competitor, the Binghamton Sun, a morning paper already on the newsstands as the details arrived about Kennedy's passing, had a front page story about the shooting the day before.

The reporter and I were among the first people in Binghamton to hear about Kennedy's death. The Press had a scoop on the morning newspaper. As we went to press at 10 a.m. with the day's first edition, we had the complete story, and a sad one at that.


Flora Romanowski

Schenectady

I remember when Robert F. Kennedy came to my hometown, Hudson, N.Y., in his campaign for president of the U.S.A.

He was at the Hudson courthouse park, standing on the hood of a car so that the crowd could see and hear him. I kept my fingers crossed that he wouldn't slip and fall off.

I also remember when he went down to the Mississippi Delta area to witness first hand what he had been hearing about the extreme poverty in certain areas of the U.S. The look of shock and sadness was so evident in his face. Apparently, before this trip, he was unaware of two societies - one for the rich and one of poverty.

Because of his recognition of such shocking revelations, many programs stemmed from his convictions on how to improve the lives of people in poverty. My personal opinion is that Robert was the Kennedy that would have been the better president due to his depth, understanding and intense search for solutions facing the U.S. and its people.


Laura Lee

Schenectady

I remember the curiosity, excitement and intense energy in the crowd around Bobby Kennedy while he was at Skidmore (in 1967).

We'd experienced the assassination of President John F. Kennedy a few months into our college years, and we were meeting, listening to and questioning a brother of his in classes, discussion and the lecture hall during our senior year. Quite an introduction to learning about U.S. government, political systems, leadership, campaigning, having a voice, history-in-the-making, etc.

We were challenged to recognize our own ideas, form and respect our individual opinions, and then be open and objective to their changing over time.


James Stephens

Mechanicville

I am 86 years old, born and raised in Massachusetts and lived on Cape Cod for 17 years, about six miles from the Kennedy compound. Without a doubt, Bobby was the key backbone to the Kennedy election, and or elections, including Teddy's. He had the gift of a brain that could plan any program that would win elections.

John would have made such a difference, and the combination of Jack and Bobby together was a loss never to be replaced. Bobby wanted to continue that movement and crusade by running for president with the support of his family and Ethel to correct so many wrongs and make them right. But the world changed that night in June of 1968, never to be the same. My highest regret goes to Ethel and her family that are helping to carry the torch to help the poor, sick and needy.


Natalie Conover

Scotia

After completing my sophomore year of college in May of 1968, I was anxiously preparing for a European tour with my aunt. Never having been out of the country, my excitement was high, knowing that I would visit the
country of my ancestors.

The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968, suddenly altered my emotions. The turmoil of the '60s, with just two previous assassinations -- JFK and MLK -- was once again world news.

On the evening of June 7, Gateway Tours departed New York City from JFK International and headed to London.

Upon arriving at Heathrow Airport, our tour group noticed a huge police presence, which everyone questioned.

The news spread quickly that the man who was accused of murdering Martin Luther King Jr., James Earl Ray, had been picked up at Heathrow just minutes before we landed. When the tour bus left our group at our hotel, we entered the lobby and lounge areas occupied with guests and employees watching a small black-and-white TV. The televised funeral of Robert F. Kennedy greeted us.

Silence and sadness were felt by all of us, as we listened to the eulogy given by brother Ted Kennedy.

A very exciting, happy time which I was to embark upon through seven European countries was clouded with the sadness of yet losing another great American figure.

These events will forever be imprinted in my memory. Rest in peace, RFK.


Barbara Maddaus

Rexford

Some men see things and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?

--George Bernard Shaw.

I became a believer after attending a rally while in college and had the privilege of shaking his hand. I was devastated after filing past his casket in St. Peter's Cathedral after waiting eight hours in the sweltering New York City heat.

Gone, seemingly forever, was our country's opportunity to become a better nation of acceptance, civility and respect for each other in just a moment; humanity's loss in just a moment, all that promise gone within that moment.

Just meeting him and listening to him only once it became clear he could make this country better in ways we could only hope for. I imagine what a different country it would be today."

Contact Gazette reporters Jeff Wilkin and Bill Buell at [email protected]  and [email protected] Wilkin can also be reached at 518-395-3124 and Buell at 518-395-3190.

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