History teacher David Rapaport thanks Juan Romero for giving his first talk ever to a group of high school students.
– Zoe Greene
Juan Romero, the man who held Robert Kennedy’s head in his hands upon the senator’s assassination, spoke of God, guilt and remembering the past late last month at Palo Alto High School.
History teacher David Rapaport, who hosted the event, also invited American Broadcasting Company reporter Rigo Chacon and Paul Schrade to speak with Romero. Rapaport contacted Schrade, a former United Auto Workers executive and friend of the Kennedy’s, via telephone.
Romero reflected on his first time meeting Kennedy, when Romero was a busboy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Then 17-year-old Romero was allowed to deliver food on June 4, 1968, to Kennedy’s suite.
“He [Kennedy] reached out and shook my hand. He had a strong handshake,” Romero said. “I walked out of the room feeling I was 20 feet tall.”
Later that night, after Kennedy had won the California Democratic primary election, he was assassinated while shaking Romero’s hand once again.
“All I noticed was a circle of shoes around Bobby Kennedy’s body and nobody offered to help him up,” Romero said. “It was like some kind of plague.”
Immediately after the shooting, Romero comforted Kennedy and placed a rosary in his hands. Kennedy died in a hospital hours after he was assassinated.
“There were a hundred rosaries [mailed to me] to replace the one I left in Kennedy’s hands,” Romero said.
According to Romero, he was particularly supportive of the Kennedy family’s politics because of its support of the Farm Worker’s Movement and Cesar Chavez.
“I don’t know too much about politics, but I know that the Kennedys acted from the heart and their intentions were to right the wrongs,” Romero said. “I felt that he [Robert Kennedy] had my back. When I visited [Kennedy’s grave], I felt that I didn’t have his back.”
Romero spoke of his extensive guilt in the aftermath of the assassination. He has thought that if Kennedy had not stopped to shake his hand, or if he had been standing in front, Kennedy would not have been harmed.
“I was angry at myself, I was angry at God,” Romero said as he wiped his eyes. “You think you’re over it, but there is always something that will remind you of that dark moment in history.”
After hearing of Romero’s guilt Schrade reassured him that the gunman’s motive was clear and that the assassination was inevitable. He and a team are currently investigating whether there was more than one gunman, as multiple shots were fired. Schrade stood behind Kennedy as he was assassinated and was shot just above his hairline. Fortunately, the bullet shattered and exited and Schrade only faced minor injuries.
“I want you to know the most important thing we’ve done is build a Robert Kennedy school on the Ambassador [Hotel] site,” Schrade said. “It’s a joy to behold.”
Romero also sees the future in today’s students. He expressed relief at seeing young people still involved and interested in Senator Kennedy.
“Moments like these take the pain away,” Romero said.
Finally, as the talk came to a close, Romero urged the audience to “learn about him [Kennedy].”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that RFK died days after the shooting in a hospital. The error has since been corrected.