StoryCorps: The Busboy Who Cradled A Dying RFK Recalls Those Final Moments It's an infamous scene: Juan Romero, then a teenager, attends to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who had just been shot at LA's Ambassador Hotel. He reflects on his brief time with RFK 50 years ago.
NPR logo

The Busboy Who Cradled A Dying RFK Recalls Those Final Moments

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/615534723/616032009" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Busboy Who Cradled A Dying RFK Recalls Those Final Moments

The Busboy Who Cradled A Dying RFK Recalls Those Final Moments

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/615534723/616032009" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In StoryCorps this morning, we are looking back 50 years. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was running for president and had just won the California primary when he was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel here in Los Angeles. In a famous photograph taken seconds after he was shot, Kennedy lies on the floor. A teenage busboy kneels beside him, cradling the senator's head. That busboy was Juan Romero, who came to the United States from Mexico as a child. At StoryCorps, he remembered meeting Kennedy the day before the assassination, when Romero helped deliver his room service.

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 on 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 bringing the newspaper. And you can see my picture in there with the senator on the floor. She turned around and showed me the picture, 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 bullets 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Juan Romero there, remembering Senator Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. And if you'd like to look at that iconic photo from that night, we have it up at npr.org.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.