Forty years ago today Bobby Kennedy died after being gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after he had won the Californian Democratic primary.
And with his death another dream had died.
I was only ten years old in 1968, but I knew what was going on in the United States and the rest of the world and especially in some far-off Southeast Asian country called Vietnam. Maybe I was too young to understand what exactly the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and later the Democratic Convention in Chicago with the “whole world watching” meant back then, but all of these events that defined an era, still resonate today.
I have often heard people older than me ask the question “where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?” And perhaps, the same question “where we were” could be asked of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. I do remember where I was at the night after he was assassinated. I was staying with my grandparents east of LaSalle for the summer (school had just let out a few days earlier) and had gone to a carnival in Spring Valley (about ten miles away) with Ray and Tommy Sharpe (they lived close to my grandparents’ house. We had heard that he had been shot the night before but was still in the hospital. When we got back from the carnival early the night of the sixth, it was all over the news. Although my grandparents were Republicans they were quite shocked and saddened that another Kennedy had been gunned down.
Maybe I was too young to understand all the ramifications of those events and others and how they would shape the American psyche and soul in the 60s, but I knew that 1968 was a watershed year for America both at home and abroad. It was a year filled with horror, bloodshed, assassination, war, and protest, but ironically the year would end on a very hopeful note with the flyby of the moon on Christmas Eve by Apollo 8 and for the first time ever, we could see the planet Earth from outer space and perhaps see, not only how beautiful and serene that Earth rising up from the darkness was, but also think about how fragile life is here on this planet for us all.
Forty years ago today, Americans lost a part of themselves when Bobby Kennedy died not to mention deprived of a political visionary. Whether or not he could have secured the Democratic nomination later that summer and beaten Richard Nixon in November will always be open to debate.
Nonetheless, we can only wonder and imagine what could have been.
“Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘why not?’”