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Remembering Sen. Robert F. Kennedy who would have turned 97 this weekend

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Senator Robert F. Kennedy would have turned 97 this weekend. He was assassinated in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. In a photo taken seconds after he was shot, Kennedy lies on the floor. A teenaged busboy cradles the senator's head - Juan Romero. At StoryCorps, Romero remembered delivering room service to Kennedy the day before the assassination.

JUAN ROMERO: They opened the door, and the senator was talking on the phone. He put down the phone and says, come on in, boys. You could tell when he was looking at you that he's not looking through you. He's taking you into account. And I remember walking out of there like I was 10 feet tall.

The next day, he had his victory speech. So they came down the service elevator, which is behind the kitchen. I remember extending my hand as far as I could. And then I remember him shaking my hand. And as he let go, somebody shot him. I kneeled down to him and put my hand between the cold concrete and his head just to make him comfortable. I could see his lips moving. So I put my ear next to his lips, and I heard him say, is everybody OK? I said yes, everybody's OK. I could feel a steady stream of blood coming through my fingers. I had a rosary in my shirt pocket, and I took it out thinking that he would need it a lot more than me. I wrapped it around his right hand, and then they wheeled him away.

The next day, I decided to go to school. I didn't want to think about it, but this woman was reading the newspaper, and you could see my picture in there with the senator on the floor. She turned around and showed me the pictures, says, this is you, isn't it? And I remember looking at my hands, and there was dried blood in between my nails. Then I received bags of letters addressed to a busboy. There was a couple of angry letters. One of them even went as far as to say that if he hadn't stopped to shake your hand, the senator would have been alive. So I should be ashamed of myself for being so selfish.

It's been a long 50 years, and I still get emotional. Tears come out. But I went to visit his grave in 2010. I felt like I needed to ask Kennedy to forgive me for not being able to stop those bullies from harming him. And I felt like, you know, it would be a sign of respect to buy a suit. I never owned a suit in my life. And so when I wore the suit and I stood in front of his grave, I felt a little bit like that first day that I met him. I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.

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INSKEEP: Juan Romero recalling Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Romero died in 2018. His StoryCorps interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jud Esty-Kendall