San Jose man came to aid of RFK

June 5, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
40-years ago on Thursday, Sirhan Sirhan shot Senator Robert F. Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where the presidential contender had just claimed victory in the California democratic primary. The senator died the next day. A San Jose man came to Kennedy's side in those terrifying moments after he was shot.

His hair is gray, his arms are still strong, he is in his late fifties, but for millions of people, Juan Romero will always be the young hotel busboy who comforted Robert F. Kennedy.

A few minutes earlier, Romero and hundreds of Kennedy supporters at LA's Ambassador Hotel had witnessed the candidate's triumphant California primary election in his quest for the White House.

"Thank you and now it's on to Chicago and let's win there," said Senator Robert Kennedy.

For a 17-year-old, the chance to meet Bobby Kennedy that night was something special. He waited for a handshake.

"I can tell this to my grandkids, my son, my children, that I met the President of the United States. I was certain he was going to be the next President of the United States," said Romero, a RFK shooting witness.

Kennedy moved through the crowd and when shots were fired, he collapsed. The crowd seemed to freeze in horror.

"Some of them were yelling 'No not another Dallas, oh no, this can't be happening again,'" recalled Romero.

The young hotel employee knew Robert Kennedy was seriously wounded, but he says he heard him ask if everyone was OK. Juan then placed a rosary in Kennedy's hand.

"I just said to myself, he's going to need it more than I do now," said Romero.

A photojournalist recently gave Romero a new book about the 1968 Kennedy campaign. He in turn gave it to his daughter because he doesn't want the painful pictures in his house.

Juan Romero now lives in this modest San Jose home where he says he owns part of the American dream. He adds that a traumatic moment, forty years ago, interrupts that dream every day.

"You see hope dying," said Romero.

For Juan Romero, that hope may never come back.