Outside the former Ambassador Hotel site today. LA Observed. Below: The Ambassador Hotel pantry by Bill Eppridge/Life.
I always like when Steve Lopez goes back and checks on Juan Romero, the busboy at the Ambassador Hotel who cradled Robert F. Kennedy as he lay wounded in the pantry on election night in June 1968. Romero has struggled to get past that night, but for the rest of us his story is deeply embedded in the lore of Los Angeles. After meeting his hero earlier on a room-service run, the 17-year-old reached out to congratulate Senator Kennedy as he walked through the pantry under the ballroom, following his victory speech. After the shots were fired and bedlam erupted all around, Romero stayed with Kennedy and offered him rosary beads. The photos by Boris Yaro of the LA Times and Bill Eppridge of Life Magazine are powerful and poignant, but the fact that has always stuck with me is that when the sun came up, Romero rode the bus home to the Eastside and went to class at Roosevelt High School with no one knowing that Kennedy's dried blood was still on his hands.
Five years ago Romero finally brought himself to visit Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery, a difficult visit that Lopez chronicled. Now Romero has reached another level of peace with the help of a woman from Germany. From Steve's Sunday column in the LA Times:
In June, Juan Romero did something he hadn't done in decades. He celebrated his birthday, going out to dinner with his family in San Jose.
"I always dreaded when June was coming up," said Romero, 65, who has struggled for most of his adult life to let go of his crippling memory of an American tragedy.
The shooting had wounded his psyche. On far too many nights he lay awake wondering if Kennedy would still be alive if he hadn't paused to shake a busboy's hand.
It was a different Juan Romero, however, who reached out to me earlier this month to say he was much improved "spiritually and emotionally," and it was all because of an unlikely friendship with a woman from Germany who saw my column about the Arlington visit, tracked Romero down and helped him finally step out of the past.
Now 65, Romero continues to work as a concrete and asphalt paver up in in San Jose. He says that Kennedy spoke to him that night, asking "Is everybody OK?" After Romero told him that yes, everybody was OK, he says Kennedy turned away and said "everything's going to be OK.'"
Below: Kennedy's hearse leaves Good Samaritan Hospital. Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner Collection