Landmark (Historical Person) of the Month (June): Robert F Kennedy

A recent blog by my good friend Tony got me thinking about Robert F. Kennedy, which is only appropriate, since it was on this day, 40 years ago (June 5, 1968) that he was assassinated in Los Angeles.

We’ll look at a couple of items and places this month, all associated with the Bobby Kennedy legacy.

First, a little bit of background to refresh your memory on RFK. Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy was born in 1925, the seventh child of nine Kennedy children. He was the younger brother of John F Kennedy (35th President of the US) and the older brother of Edward “Teddy” Kennedy, current Senator from Massachusetts. Briefly hitting the highlights of his life, he served as the 64th Attorney General (1961-1964) and the New York Senator from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. He played critical roles in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961, and was actively involved in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the early 60’s.

(A semi-related side note: During the later days of WWII, RFK was in a Naval Officer Commissioning Program at Harvard [known as the V-12 Program]. On December 15, 1945 the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. [named after his brother, a Navy aviator, who died during his 26th combat mission off the coast of England in 1944). RFK requested to be released from naval officer training to serve as an apprentice seaman on the ship's inaugural cruise through the Western Hemisphere. He was later honorably discharged from the USN.)

USS Joseph P Kennedy (DD-850), left; LT Joseph P Kennedy, right

In early 1968, Kennedy announced his presidential campaign, seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party. Kennedy defeated Eugene McCarthy in the critical California primary but was shot shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, dying the next day. The assailant was Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year old Palestinian allegedly upset by Kennedy’s pro-Israel views. Sirhan is currently serving a life sentence at the California State Prison, Corcoran.

RFK was survived by his pregnant wife, Ethel, and their ten children. The 11th son, Rory, was born several months after his father’s death.

At the funeral mass, held in St. Patrick's Cathedral, his brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, eulogized him with the words, "My brother 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."

Immediately following the mass, Kennedy's body was transported by train to Washington, D.C. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks and stations, paying their respects as the train passed by. Due to the slow-moving nature of the train, RFK’s casket didn’t arrive at Union Station until 9:10 PM, changing the afternoon internment to a night internment (the only one to ever take place at night in Arlington). RFK is buried adjacent to his older brother John, in Arlington National Cemetery. In accordance with his wife’s wishes, Kennedy was buried with the bare minimum military escort and ceremony. The folded US flag was presented to his parents on behalf of the United States by Colonel John Glenn, USMC.

After his assassination, the mandate of the US Secret Service was altered to include protection of presidential candidates.

We’ll look at a couple of other items related to RFK over the next few weeks.

Coincidentally, the New York Times just released a multimedia presentation showcasing some of the powerful images shot from the funeral train carrying RFK’s casket. You can find it here.

Image from the funeral train of RFK, 1968

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