With sickening familiarity there was the same fell scene all over again—the crack of the gun, the crumpling body, the screams, the kaleidoscopic pandemonium, a voice that cried, "Get a doctor! Get a doctor!" and another that wailed in anguish, "Jesus Christ! Oh, Jesus Christ!" and then trailed off in a series of broken sobs.
Thus in Los Angeles was Robert Kennedy cut down by a bullet in the brain, the third great U.S. leader to die at the hand of an assassin in less than five years. And there was in Kennedy's death a chilling completeness—a fulfillment he himself seemed to understand and even to expect. Beneath all the wealth and Camelot glamour, the Kennedy family record was a catalogue of ill fortune: the violent deaths of Joe Jr., Kathleen, and finally Jack; the sister born hopelessly retarded, the stroke that lamed and silenced patriarch Joe Sr., the plane crash that nearly dispatched Ted. John Kennedy's death particularly seemed to haunt Bobby, even as he set out to re-create his slain brother's career as senator and then President. It made him even more the fatalist, reckless of the risks of climbing mountains or running rapids—or plunging into the frighteningly grabby crowds his campaign drew everywhere. He worried Bill Barry, the towering ex-FBI man and New York bank officer who served as his chief bodyguard. "I get mixed up with the crowds and I can't see," said Barry. "And I get tired." But, in Los Angeles as everywhere else, Kennedy spurned police protection and offered himself to his worshipers. "Living every day," he liked to say, "is Russian roulette."
Yet sometimes it seemed like he sensed the outcome. He had always carried the late President's wounds like stigmata, and, late in his grueling 81-day campaign through a string of Democratic primaries, they began to show through. Once, in Oregon, a balloon popped loudly during a surprise birthday party aboard Kennedy's campaign jet; Kennedy's hand rose slowly to his face, the back covering his eyes, and the gaiety stopped cold for an agonizingly slow ten-count. Again, as his motorcade toured San Francisco's Chinatown a day before the California primary, firecrackers went off with sharp bursts in a puff of purplish smoke. Bobby's face froze in a little half smile. A shudder seized his body. His knees seemed almost to buckle.
Yet the moment passed quickly, lost in the resurgent confidence that pervaded the Kennedy camp as he neared the end of the long primary road. He had taken a sound and quite possible critical thrashing at McCarthy's hands in the Oregon primary only the week before—a setback that made California, politically, a life-or-death trial by combat for Kennedy. "If we lose here," an aide conceded, "we can all go home." So they set out to win the way the Kennedys always had, saturating the state with money and glamour and, most of all, the candidate himself. While McCarthy rationed himself to two live appearances and a radio talk on the last campaign day, an exhausted Kennedy, sun-baked and hollow eyed, put in fourteen punishing hours. Midway through a closing rally in San Diego, he cut a talk short, started off the platform and sagged down on the ramp with his head between his knees. His two Negro celebrity escorts, pro footballer Roosevelt Grier and onetime Olympic decathlon champ Rafer Johnson helped him to a dressing room. He vomited. Then he went back to the platform and spoke again. But that night he slipped away to Malibu, where six of his ten children were bunking in movie director John Frankenheimer's beachfront home, and the break seemed to restore him. He spent the morning body-surfing with the kids (and collecting a small bump on the head when he fished son David, 12, out of a mild undertow), then repaired—fresh and rested—to his fifth-floor headquarters suite at the big, rambling Ambassador Hotel just as the returns began coming in.
Itchy to put the suspense behind him, Kennedy prowled between his half of the "royal suite" and a room across the hall set up for a party. He took the congratulatory abrazos of the celebrities (Budd Schulberg, John Glenn, Milton Berle, George Plimpton). He ducked into the bathroom—the only private place around, to talk over his victory speech with Ted Sorensen and Dick Goodwin. He held court in the corridor, puffing a cigar, quoting Lord Tweedsmuir on politics ("It's an honorable adventure") and looking happy as a precocious schoolboy when no one around knew who Lord Tweedsmuir was (late author of "The Thirty-Nine Steps," governor general of Canada). He put in a call to Irish Mafioso Kenny O'Donnell in Washington, fretting over the hunt for delegates in big industrial states like Ohio and Michigan and Illinois. He duly noted the politically marginal but personally gratifying return from that day's South Dakota primary: Kennedy, 50 per cent; LBJ 30, despite a vigorous vote-Johnson drive by Hubert Humphrey's people, and McCarthy, a laggardly 20.
And finally, with the California returns piling up toward an ultimate 46 percent to 42 percent victory over McCarthy somebody said: "Let's go down." Do we know enough about it yet?" Kennedy asked.
"Oh, yeah," said Jesse Unruh, the state assembly speaker who had helped talk Kennedy into the Presidential race, "there's no doubt about a victory."
Unruh headed downstairs first to warm up the crowd in the brilliantly lit Embassy Ballroom. Moments later, almost at the stroke of midnight, Kennedy collected Ethel, descended to the ballroom in a knot of followers and ad-libbed a victory speech. He started with an Oscar winner's list of thank-yous, some serious, some mocking (to brother-in-law Steve Smith, "who is ruthless but effective"; to Rosey Grier, "who said he'd take care of anybody who didn't vote for me"). He got laughs and cheers, and he finished with his old exhortations: "I think we can end the divisions within the United States. What I think is quite clear is that we can work together … We are a great country, a selfless … and a compassionate country … So my thanks to all of you and on to Chicago and let's win."
He might not have gone through the pantry at all, except that the crowd in the Embassy Ballroom was so dense and his next stop—a press conference agreed to by his staff scarcely ten seconds before he finished speaking. So he turned from the crown, parted the gold curtains behind the platform and—trailed by a knot of staff people, followers and newsmen—exited through a double door to his rendezvous with death.
Waiting for him in the serving pantry was a small, swarthy, bristly haired man, dressed all in blue, on hand concealed in a rolled-up Kennedy poster, a faint smile flickering. Like his target, the gunman too was in the pantry by chance. Turned away twice from the Embassy Ballroom door for want of a press card or ticket, he had somehow slipped into the kitchen area and lost himself among the waiters, the cooks, the busboys and the spillover campaign volunteers waiting for a glimpse of the senator.
Kennedy emerged from a connecting corridor with assistant maître d'hòtel Karl Uecker and Ambassador staffer Edward Minasian up ahead bowling the way. Spying the kitchen help lined up to the left of his path, he fell into a sidewise shuffle and began to shake hands. Ethel was separated from him in the crush. He turned to look for her.
Just ahead, the little man in blue darted toward him. The hand came out of the rolled-up poster, in it a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver, and snaked past Uecker's head till it seemed to be no more than a foot or so from Kennedy's. Slowly, almost studiedly, the little man pulled the trigger. The gun went pop! then a pause, then pop! again—not nearly as loud as the Chinese firecrackers in San Francisco.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
Kennedy reeled backward. All around, people ran and surged and fell. Uecker grabbed the gunman's neck under his right arm, grappled for the gun with his left hand. He and Minasian slammed the assassin forward against a stainless steel serving table. Uecker clutched his gun hand, pounded it again and again onto the table top. But the gunman's fist seemed to freeze, and the eight-shot revolver kept going pop! pop! pop! until its chambers were empty.
With a desperate surge, Uecker and Minasian—both thickly built men—shoved the gunman hard into another table, and the hulking 6-foot-5 287-pound Grier blitzed through like a linebacker, pinning all three men with his great body. Others, Rafer Johnson, George Plimpton and Bill Barry among them, piled on. The pounding cracked the suspect's left index finger. The gun spun free and Rafer Johnson got it. Minasian ran for the phone. A pair of hands slithered around the gunman's throat. Grier fought them off. Jesse Unruh jumped up on the serving table and cried, "Keep him alive! Don't kill him! We want him alive!"
The crowds pushed in from the ballroom at one end of the pantry, the press room at the other. The pantry was a tableau of carnage. Paul Schrade, 43, a United Auto Workers regional director who had shared the platform with Kennedy, fell backward onto the concrete floor, red rivulet spilling from a head wound and puddling on the brim of a Styrofoam Kennedy campaign skimmer. William Weisel, 30, a plump ABC-TV unit manager, slumped in a corner, clutching at a hole in his abdomen. Elizabeth Evans, 43, staggered and fell, blood from a scalp wound spilling down her face and her pale print frock. A bullet pierced the 19-year-old Ira Goldstein's thigh: he dropped ashen in to a chair, asking people randomly, "Will you help me? I've been shot." Still another stray bullet caught Irwin Stroll, 17, in the calf and spun him down.
And there in the midst of it all lay Robert Kennedy, 42 years old, flat on his back, his arms out, his legs slightly bent, his eyes now shut, now open and staring sightlessly into some private distance. One bullet had pierced an armpit and lodged near the base of his neck. Another had smashed through the mastoid bone behind his right ear and atomized into tiny fragments that angled through his brain. The wounds were eerily close to John Kennedy's. The stigmata at last were made real.
Screams rose around him—"Shots! Shots! Look out, look out, there's a madman in here and he's killing everybody!" A Mutual radio man wandered, babbling into his tape recorder: "Senator Kennedy has been shot, Senator Kennedy has been shot, is that possible? Is that possible? It is possible, ladies and gentlemen, it is possible, he has." Juan Romero, a 17-year-old busboy, knelt beside Kennedy, cradled his head in one hand and gave him a crucifix. "Is everybody safe? Okay?" Kennedy asked. "Yes, yes," Romero blurted, "everything is going to be okay." Someone stripped off Kennedy's shoes and loosened his collar; someone pressed a rosary into his hands. Kennedy clutched the beads. His lips moved, but now no one could hear what he was trying to say.
'Get them Out'
The word spread outward and, with it, a contagion of chaos. Ethel Kennedy moved helplessly at the edge of the crush, near tears of frustration, begging for help until spectators propelled her over the crowd to her husband. She dropped to her knees at his side, crooning to him. Aides fought their way to them, ringed them, and held the crowd off. "Give him air, please give him air," Mrs. Kennedy pleaded. Once, in the fierce privacy of her grief she jumped up shouting and waving at the photographers. "Get them out, get them out!" she cried. A cameraman yelled back, "this is history, lady," and the flashbulbs kept flaring.
The ballroom just beyond was an eddy of panic, men and women and kids milling and bumping and weeping and crying, "Oh, God! It can't be! Not again!" An icy cool Steve Smith struggled into the Embassy Ballroom, chanting ("Be calm, be calm"), seizing a mike and asking the crowd to leave quietly so doctors could get in. The crowd fell back. Three doctors materialized. One of them, Rowland Dean, 38, a Negro, reached Kennedy ten minutes after the shooting and found him still conscious.
There had been no police at the Ambassador, only private security guards, but now a flying wedge of helmeted cops barged through the crowd and took the suspect from the clutch of men at once trying to subdue him and keep him alive. The police picked him up by the arms, closed around him in a tight ring and simply ran him downstairs and out of the hotel past a gauntlet of Kennedy volunteers yelling, "Kill him! Get the bastard! Lynch him, lynch him!" Behind came Unruh, shouting at the police, "Slow down, slow down, if you don't slow down somebody's gonna shoot this bastard!" The police hardly needed the warning. Nobody wanted another Dallas.
Outside the hotel, the policemen hustled the suspect into a squad car. An angry mob closed around the car and threatened to engulf it. "Let's go, goddamit," shouted Unruh, who had slipped in with the captive. Spilling the crowd like dominoes, police cleared a path and the car sped off, siren shrieking. Only a laborious check of the gun through three prior owners would identify the suspect, long hours later, as Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a 24-year-old Christian Arab who emigrated from Jerusalem at 12 in 1957 and now seemed to hold Kennedy somehow culpable in the Arabs' humiliation by Israel last year. For the moment, he was a man with no name or nationality. "I did it for my country," he told Unruh on the way to the lockup. "Why him? Why him? cried Unruh, assuming Sirhan meant America. "He tried to do so much." But Sirhan only muttered: "It's too late, it's too late." After that, he clammed up.
At last, the ambulance men came for Kennedy. They had been standing around Central Receiving Hospital, attendant Max A. Behrman, 48, recalled, when the dispatcher gave them the order from the Ambassador: "There was an injury. A man had fell down in the Embassy Ballroom." So they raced to the hotel and through the crowd to the pantry. Behrman saw a man sprawled out, a woman beside him holding an ice pack to his head and saying over and over, "Don't worry Bobby, don't worry." Only when he bent down for a closer look did he recognize the senator; only when his hands came away bloody did he realize that "something bad had happened to Robert Kennedy." He and driver Robert Hulsman, an ex-Chicago cop, lifted Kennedy as gently as they could into a litter. "No, no, don't" Kennedy murmured, as if the move had hurt him. It was the last thing anyone remembered his saying.
'Is He Breathing?'
Behrman and Hulsman rolled the stretched down the freight elevator and out to the waiting ambulance, Mrs. Kennedy and Jean Smith (the senator's sister) close behind. Ethel rode in the back, a sentinel so fierce in her grief that she wouldn't let even Behrman touch her stricken husband. "I tried to check his wounds," the attendant said later, "and she told me to keep my hands off. I tried to put bandages on but she wouldn't let me. She got so mad at me she threw my log book out the window." But suddenly Kennedy's breathing turned heavy—"like he was taking his last breath"—and Mrs. Kennedy, suddenly subdued, let Behrman clap an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. "Is he breathing?" she asked. Behrman said yes.
The ambulance hit Central Receiving, 2.3 miles from the hotel, at 12:30 a.m. Behrman and Hulsman rolled the litter into Emergency Room No. 2 and lifted Kennedy to a padded aluminum table. Nurses cut his clothes off to prepare him for a heart-lung resuscitator. His eyes were fixed and staring. He was nearly pulseless. His blood pressure was perilously close to zero. Blood poured from his head wound. His heart was faint. "The bullet hit the switchboard," said Dr. V. F. Bazilauskas, the first physician to see him. A priest appeared and intoned the last rites. Bazilauskas was all but ready to pronounce Kennedy dead.
But he fell to work, ordering more oxygen, running an "airway" tube down Kennedy's throat, massaging his chest for ten minutes to help his heart. He slapped Kennedy's face, calling to him, "Bob, Bob, can you hear us?" Ethel begged him to stop, but he kept on. The medical team gave Kennedy adrenalin, albumin and Dextran—a temporary blood substitute. And finally he started to respond. His blood pressure soared to 150 over 90, his heart beat stronger, his breath came in little gasps. Bazilauskas turned to Ethel, feeling bad at having frightened her earlier. "So I thought of a little kindness I could do," he said afterward. "When we started to get a good heartbeat, I let her put the stethoscope to her ears. She listened, and like a mother hearing a baby's first heartbeat, she was overjoyed."
The doctors used the resuscitator briefly, then—as Kennedy's life signs continued to pick up—switched him back to oxygen. But Central Receiving has neither blood plasma nor X-ray equipment, and they had no choice to send him on to "Good Sam"—the Hospital of the Good Samaritan—four blocks away. Bazilauskas dressed his wounds while another doctor, Albert Holt, and a nurse bathed his staring eyes and put patches over them to keep them from getting too dry. They put him between sheets drawn up to his chin, oxygen tubes running from his nose, a nurse holding the intravenous bottles above him. Before he was taken out, a quiver seized his abdomen and legs. Bazilauskas feared brain damage was setting in.
Once more an ambulance screamed through the streets. Robert Francis Kennedy's last and longest day was beginning.
It was to have been a gay occasion, capped by early-morning victory toasts at the clubby Beverly Hills discothèque, "The Factory." Up in Kennedy's Ambassador suite, the celebrants had watched him on TV until he said "On to Chicago," then turned away. "On to the Factory," someone had mimicked. But then the screens had suddenly filled with milling, screaming people and Steve Smith had begged everyone to leave Awareness had settled slowly. The party had turned into a vigil, the vigil into a wake.
Back in the serving pantry, Rosey Grier slumped on a stool, face in his massive hands, sobbing loudly. Hugh McDonald, a young press aide, sat waxy-faced, hugging Kennedy's shoes to his chest. In the lobby, two girls held Kennedy placards, the words "God Bless" scrawled in above the name. Around the hotel's balloon filled, mock Moorish fountain, a score of men and women fell to their knees, some telling rosary beads and chanting Hail Marys. A well dressed young black man picked up a heavy lobby chair and flung it crashing into the fountain. Three friends walked him around the lobby, trying to calm his desperate fury. "That's what you get!" he cried. "That's what you get in white America!"
Like ripples in troubled water, the sad news spread. The Kennedys—perhaps America's most public family—turned inward toward their anguish.
The word reached Ted Kennedy in San Francisco, just after he finished standing in for brother Bob at Kennedy headquarters there. Looking grave and transfixed, the youngest of the Kennedy men caught an Air Force jet south to Los Angeles, then a police car to Good Sam to join Ethel and the Smiths and sister Pat Lawford. In New York, Jacqueline Kennedy had looked in on Kennedy's mid-Manhattan headquarters during the evening, then gone to bed thinking him a big winner in California. A transatlantic phone call from her sister and brother-in-law in London, Lee and Stanislas Radziwill, wakened her at 4:30 a.m. They asked how Kennedy was.
"You heard that he won California," Jackie replied.
"But how is he?"
"I just told you," Jackie said. "He won California."
Radziwill had called for news; instead, he had to break it to her.
"Oh, no!" she cried. "It can't be…"
Radziwill flew to New York, picked up Jackie there and took her to Los Angeles on a borrowed IBM jet. They, too, joined the watch at Good Sam. The Sargent Shrivers and Ted's wife, Joan, soon followed from Paris. A Vice Presidential jet—lined up by Hubert Humphrey to fly in a neurosurgeon from Boston—flew out again with John Glenn taking the six kids and Kennedy's Irish spaniel, Freckles, home to Hickory Hill in McLean, Va.
It fell to Ted to call the parents at the family's Hyannis Port compound. Rather than wake them with sketchy word, he waited till morning. Mother Rose, 77, had got up early, as she always does, for morning Mass and heard the news on television. Ted told his mute, partly paralyzed father. The compound was sealed off. But late that morning, newsmen peering over the palisade saw Rose Kennedy, in a long pink coat and white shoes and sunglasses, walking from her house to the now shuttered one where Jack used to stay. She was bouncing a tennis ball on the walk, and when she got to Jack's house, she threw it against the wall, caught it, threw it again—a slow and mechanical game that went on for ten minutes. Once she spied photographers watching her, and she told them evenly: "Really, how can you be so unfair?" No one answered.
The circles spread, engulfing the Capital and the world.
The White House Situation Room got its first bulletins at 3:15 a.m., Washington time, and, by 3:31, national security adviser Walt Whitman Rostow had roused the President by phone. Mr. Johnson woke Lady Bird, flicked on his three-screen TV console and turned his bedroom into a crisis command center for the next eight hours. He called Attorney General Ramsey Clark to see if he had the power to order Secret Service bodyguards for the other Presidential candidates. He didn't, but—unwilling to wait even the single day it took to get authority from Congress—he ordered agents dispatched anyway. Within hours, they were standing watch over all the avowed candidates—even George Wallace and Harold Stassen.
In a round of phone calls and private talks, the President began lobbying for a gun-control bill even stronger than the watered-down version that zipped right through the house to his desk before the week was out. He put together a blue-ribbon commission of inquiry headed by Dr. Milton Eisenhower, not this time to investigate the facts of a single murder but to examine the whole dark strain of violence in American life. He issued a brief written statement ("There are no words equal to the horror of this tragedy…"), later went on national television to pray: "Let us, for God's sake, resolve to live under the law. Let us put an end to violence and to the preaching of violence…Let us begin tonight."
And at Good Samaritan Hospital, surrounded by his family and his friends and the enormously talented men who had coalesced around his candidacy, Robert Kennedy waged his lonely struggle for life."
A crowd of 400 gathered in the street, waiting for word. Family and friends shuttled between Kennedy's fifth-floor, intensive care room and the sitting rooms nearby fitted out with beds for Ethel and Jacqueline. Once campaign staffer Dick Tuck appeared in Good Sam's doorway flashing a thumbs-up signal that set homes briefly rising. Few who saw the senator really believed he would come through whole and functioning—if, indeed, he could come through at all. Yet there was almost determined hope in the bulletins that press secretary Frank Mankiewicz, wan and stubbly, carried outside to newsmen. Masking his own anguish behind a calm, controlled voice, he said the senator's body was not betraying him; his life signs—heart, pulse, respiration—all were good.
At 2:45 a.m., Kennedy was wheeled into a ninth-floor surgical suite, and—while two grim-faced cops stood guard outside with green surgical smocks over their uniforms—a team of three neurosurgeons went for the bullet in Kennedy's brain. They expected, Mankiewicz said, that the operation would take 45 minutes or an hour; instead it dragged on for three hours and 45 minutes, and what the doctors found plainly appalled them. Tiny bits of shattered bullet and bone were strewn through the brain, ripping vital arteries and penetrating the cerebellum, which controls muscular coordination. The surgeons got all the fragments, but some near the upper brain stem, too chancy to go after: they elected to leave the second bullet lodged in Kennedy's neck. They were not optimistic. One of them, Dr. Henry Cuneo, spoke by phone to a New York colleague, Dr. J. Lawrence Pool, who summed up later: the outcome, even if Kennedy lived, could be "extremely tragic."
Yet still the vigil went on. Ethel Kennedy trailed her husband to the ninth floor. A nurse there tried to get her to go back to the fifth during the operation. But Ethel refused, sitting instead in a tiny room near surgery, anxiously biting her lower lip until the double doors burst open and Kennedy was wheeled out. In the recovery room, she climbed onto a surgical table next to Kennedy's and lay there beside him for a silent time.
Through the long day, the machinery of modern medicine sustained Kennedy's flickering life. Once Steve Smith slipped into his room, slipped out and said: "It won't be long." A battery of test searched for signs of recovery, all in vain. "It wasn't a question of sinking," Mankiewicz said later. "It was just not rising." Ethel woke from a catnap and stepped once more into Kennedy's room. She was at his bedside with Jackie and Ted and Pat Lawford and the Steve Smiths when, at 1:44 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on June 6, 1968, the struggle ended, and Robert Kennedy died.
In the Street, Milton Anderson, a Negro musician heard a cry from the hospital and knew it was all over. "I started walking and I couldn't hold back no longer." Ted Kennedy paced a blacktop parking area beside the hospital for more than an hour, talking with a friend, Charles Evers, whose brother Medgar was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963, told whoever would listen that Kennedy was "the only white man in this country I really trusted." Mankiewicz met the press one last time, the message telegraphed long before he spoke by his sagging shoulders and his lip chewed raw.
Once again the ripples spread. Lyndon Johnson went back on television to proclaim a day of mourning, to order the flags lowered to half-staff and to demand stiff weapons legislation that would "spell out our grief in constructive action." (Said an aide: "I've never seen him more disturbed about the failure of Congress to act") Presidential politicking simply stopped: all the candidates scrubbed their campaign schedules and fell to composing eulogies. After first word of the shooting, Robert McNamara broke into tears at a routine state ceremonial in Washington: now he mourned Kennedy as "the wisest, most intelligent most compassionate political leader of the West." Pope Paul prayed for him at St. Peter's and sent condolences to Mrs. Kennedy.
Richard Cardinal Cushing sat at Joseph Kennedy's side when Teddy called with the news; he composed a little tribute ("Even where duty was wedded to danger, he embraced it …") and headed for New York and Washington to bury Robert, as he had buried "dear Jack." The longshoremen walked off the docks in New York City, and a local TV station canceled two and a half hours of morning programs and ran the single scrawled word SHAME instead. Mrs. Martin Luther King, herself widowed by an assassin only two months earlier, flew to Los Angeles to be with Ethel, just as the Kennedy's had come to be with her.
A Russian woman told a Moscow newsman, "All you Americans can do is shoot one another." An Army noncom in Vietnam wondered bitterly, "Good God—what's going on back home?"
And the Kennedys closed round to claim their dead. After submitting the body to an autopsy by local authorities—a formality omitted in Dallas and a source of controversy ever since—the family bore Kennedy from Good Sam to the Los Angeles airport in a hearse at the head of a ten-car cortege. Thousands of mourners watched them circle the African mahogany coffin on a hydraulic lift, clasping hands as if to keep strangers out, and lug it aboard the Presidential plane themselves. Jackie wouldn't board until she was sure the plane wasn't the same Air Force One she rode home from Dallas with John Kennedy's body. It wasn't. She boarded, and, with Ethel Kennedy and Coretta King, completed a trinity of women widowed by assassins. Other filed on—old Justice Department friends like Burke Marshall and Ed Guthman, the Plimptons and the Pierre Salingers and Dick Goodwin, Rafer Johnson and Charles Evers weeping, advance man Jerry Bruno peeking back at the Throng behind the chain-link fence and sighting: "He would have liked this crowd."
The long flight home was, as recounted later by NBC-TV's Sander Vanoeur, a family friend, a somber and bitter and intensely private affair. Ted rode up front beside the coffin, now dozing, now talking bitterly with others of the clan about the "faceless men" who had murdered Jack and Melgar Evers and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And now Ted was the inheritor, the man in the family and, in his own sad words, the father of sixteen children—his own and Jack's and now Bobby's. But was he the political legatee as well? The mood aboard the plane seemed to be that the clan simply could not go though another such tragedy. Ethel Kennedy was all numb composure. She chatted at length with Jackie. The she walked forward, pausing to comfort friends. Then she stretched out beside the coffin, and she too fell asleep. Someone gently edged a pillow under her head and pressed a rosary into her hand.
They arrived at New York's La Guardia Airport on a clinging hot night, lit by a three-quarter moon. Much of New York's and some of the nation's civic and political elite stood watching as a box-lift lowered the maroon-draped coffin to the apron. Archbishop Terence Cooke said a little prayer on the tarmac. Jackie spied Robert McNamara and ran to his comforting embrace, Ethel managed a taut calm, but her eyes shone and Terry slipped into the front seat of the hearse beside her. The caravan moved away and, past silent throngs numbering in the tens of thousands, bore Robert Kennedy to the great high altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
There was a brief family service. Jackie's composure broke at the candlelit bier; she wept, and mother Rose comforted her. A six-man honor guard took station around the closed coffin for the first in a round-the-clock relay of half-hour and quarter-hour watches; the glittering corps (McNamara, IBM's tom Watson, Walter Reuther, Ralph Abernathy, Robert Lowell, Arthur Goldberg, Ted Sorensen, Sidney Poitier, Budd Schulberg, William Styron) was fresh testimony to the reach and the fierce allure of the Kennedys. Yet even with the guard in place, Teddy could not bring himself to leave his brother alone. Long past midnight, with the rest of the family gone and the first few hundred mourners queuing up in the streets. Ted was at Bobby's side, now standing, now pacing vacantly, now kneeling in prayer.
By dawn, when the cathedral doors swung open, the line was swelling to well over a hundred thousand strung out six and eight and ten abreast over 25 blocks of mid-Manhattan. Out of some deep, sorrowing patience, they stood all day in a wilting sun and through a stifling night—teen-agers, threadbare Negros, executives with dispatch cases, construction workers with hard hats, nuns praying and telling beads, coeds in miniskirts, peace kids in flowers and beads. They waited hours for a second's glimpse of the coffin, with the white wreath at the feet, the spray of roses at the head, the U.S. flag and the rosary on the burnished lid. Some snapped cameras. Some touched the wood and crossed themselves. Scores came out weeping. Four hundred fainted. A stout black woman collapsed before the coffin sobbing, "Our friend is gone, oh Jesus he is gone, Jesus, Jesus."
Members of the family appeared only briefly during the day—Ethel in black, kneeling at the coffin and touching the flag; her eldest sons, Joseph III, 15, and Robert Jr., 14, taking their turns in the honor guard; Jacqueline leading Caroline and John pas the bier; Teddy, pale and impassive, sagging alone into a fourtieth-row pew. It was mostly a day for the Bobby people—the young, the poor, the black, the disfranchised. It was the day the family gave Robert Kennedy to the public for the last time.
The Day of the funeral, for all the pomp and pageantry and live TV, he belonged to them. Just at dawn, Ethel slipped in for a last moment Alone with him, slumping into a chair beside the catafalque, planting her elbows on the coffin and burying her head in her hands. She left, and soon the great silent crowds were forming once again, the black limousines sliding to the curb, the 2,300 invited guests hurrying inside St. Pat's. The affair was one last triumph of Kennedy staffing—an incredible assemblage that brought together the President and four pretenders, princes of the church, the Chief Justice, Cabinet secretaries, the cream of congress, civil-rights leaders, old New Frontiersmen, movie stars, poets, Beautiful People. The great vaulted nave was full of striking juxtapositions—Rosey Grier and Bill Graham guarding the bier, Gen McCarthy and Barry Goldwater sharing one pew, Earl Warren and Coretta King whispering in another.
The Liturgy, too, was full of Kennedy touches—a high requiem Mass presided over by two cardinals and an archbishop, with Leonard Bernstein conducting a string ensemble and Andy Williams singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in slow, funereal measure. Cardinal Cushing commended Kennedy's soul to God, and Archbishop Cooke prayed that his example of compassionate good works would be followed on earth: "Especially in this hour, we must keep faith with America and her destiny…The act of one man must not demoralize and incapacitate 200 million others.'
A Good Man
Yet nothing in the service was so painfully affecting as the moment Ted Kennedy, looking suddenly alone and vulnerable, left his place at Ethel's side and stood before the flag-draped coffin to speak for the family. His voice caught once early on as he called the roll of the Kennedy dead—"Joe and Kathleen, Jack." But he steeled himself through a reading of Bobby's own words, from a tribute written for his father and a hortatory speech in South Africa two years ago. Then, hi voice turned thick and tremulous. "My brother," he said, "need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it…" He stumbled on: "Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times…'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?'" Then he retired, eyes flashing, to his pew.
Finally, on a June morning turned suddenly balmy and brilliant, the great bronze doors swung open; the "Halleluiah Chorus" filled fifth Avenue; a little circle of family and friends handed the tens of thousands of weeping and waving mourners, some flinging roses in its path, the cortege crawled downtown to Penn Station. And there Kennedy's casket was lifted aboard the ivy-decked funeral train. The family followed, Rose and Ted and Jacqueline, and Ethel, thickly veiled, shepherding all but the tiniest of her ten children. The 21-car train puffed out of the station. The long, slow journey home had begun.
It was a page from the American past, a throwback to the trains that carried Lincoln and McKinley and Franklin Roosevelt to their graves. Mourners by the thousands stood in a baking sun for hours at every station, jostling for a glimpse of Ethel and Jackie and the flag-draped casket as they passed in the observation car. Teddy came out on the platform and waved, and they waved back, flags and handkerchiefs fluttering. In Elizabeth, N.J., a man and woman, crowded too close to the edge of the platform, were swept under the wheels of a northbound train and killed as they craned for a look at the incoming Kennedy train. With that, the train stopped; advance man Bruno refused to give the go-ahead until railroad officials suspended all other traffic on the route. Even then, the great throngs slowed the journey and so did mechanical trouble. The day had faded to a mellow gold when the train passed Baltimore, though a crowd singing the "Battle Hymn" and "We Shall Overcome," and night had fallen when at last it reached Washington four and one-half hours late.
No one aboard wanted the trip to end; there was a certain release in motion, a terrible finality in reaching the end of the line. The trip, for the 700 passengers, was a rolling Irish wake; drinks were served up; the bereaved laughed in the face of sorrow. The survivors walked through the train to thank everybody for coming; Joe in one of his father's pinstripe gray suits, then Ethel and Jacqueline and Teddy, "I hoped," said one family intimate, "that we'd never get there.
Yet finally the train arrived in union Station; finally the coffin was carried to the hearse; finally the cortege set out, past huge, silent crowds, down streets shining with a fresh rain and a radiant, nearly full moon, for Arlington Cemetery. The caravan slid past the places Kennedy had graced—the Senate Office Building, the Department of Justice—and it circled and stopped at Lincoln Memorial while a choir, at the family's request, sang the "Battle Hymn" for Bobby one last time. And then, the procession crossed Memorial Bridge to the cemetery and the low, magnolia-shaded slope where John Fitzgerald Kennedy was buried four and a half years ago.
The mourners had been gathering for hours. The diplomatic corps and the Congress stood waiting through a brief, spattering rain. In the eerie half-light, the President took his place near the grave-site. The eternal flame danced in a freshening breeze. Cardinal Cushing had fallen ill during the train journey; Archbishop Philip Hannan delivered Robert Kennedy's soul to his God.
Bobby Kennedy's Jr. led the pallbearers; young Joe stood with his mother. A Harvard band played "America"; the pallbearers folded the flag and gave it to Ted, and he in turn presented it to Ethel. Then she knelt and kissed the coffin—Teddy at her side—then the children carrying tapers. The floodlights shone cruelly bright. A child's voice cried, "Daddy!" And, 60 feet from his brother's grave, a young and driven man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it, was laid to rest. Robert Francis Kennedy at last had come home.